A published story of an adoption breakdown – analysis of readers’ comments. On 8th April 2014 an article was published in the Daily Mail (MailonLine) entitled:
“Is this the story that proves blood IS thicker than water?”

The title continued: “Her adoring adoptive parents gave her an idyllic childhood. Yet Kayleigh’s rejected them for the mother who’s found her on Facebook”.

The article outlined how Kayleigh (now aged 22) had been removed from the care of her natural mother at age 5 years, and after a period of time in children’s homes, had spent the rest of her childhood and early adult years living with adoptive parents (who had initially been her foster parents). It was reported that Kayleigh was removed form her natural mother “because of the violent, dysfunctional relationship of her birth parents”. At the time of her placement (aged 6), her adopters (who are named in the article) also had an 11 year old adopted son living with them.

Kayleigh reflects on the positive aspect of her adoption during her childhood: “They gave us everything and were great fun. As a little child I couldn’t have asked for more”. Also: “If you had asked me when I was 15 what life was like with my parents, I would have told you it was brilliant”.

When Kayleigh was aged 11, her adoptive brother suddenly left the home at the age of 17, and never returned. Kayleigh remembers her surprise at this whilst also recalling the arguments that had occurred with their adoptive parents: “controlling him all the time, telling him who he could be friends with and what he was allowed to do”…”To me at the time it was totally confusing. My parents were devastated and kept trying to call him, to get him back, but he didn’t want to know”.

By the age of 17, Kayleigh stated how she increasingly experienced her adoptive parents as being over-controlling, including confining her to the house, preventing her from having a boyfriend, and confiscating her phone: “It was so different to the way they treated me when I was younger, I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a prisoner in my own home”. Kayleigh said she began self-harming by cutting her wrists, and first tried to “run away” when she was aged 18: “I know my parents thought they were protecting me but actually it was killing me. I’m convinced they just didn’t want me to grow up. They had wanted children so badly and now they didn’t want to let their daughter go.”

Kayleigh stated that around this time she had begun to make an attempt to locate her natural mother by enquiring of the local authority. Coincidentally, her natural mother identified Kayleigh via Facebook, and made contact. Kayleigh abruptly left her adoptive home without any discussion, leaving her adoptive parents a note. She had obtained a flat, and having left her adoptive home met up with her natural mother for the first time for 17 years.

In the Daily Mail article, written 5 months after this reunion in November 2013, Kayleigh describes her natural mother in endearing terms.

The article in the MailOnLine attracted 993 comments (before the window for comments expired). A few respondents posted more than one comment. Most were from the UK, but with significant contributions from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Switzerland and elsewhere in the world. This blog will present an analysis of readers’ reactions to Kayleigh’s story. From a quantitative research perspective this sample is not representative of any interest group in the complex debates around adoption. From a qualitative research perspective, the material is very informative about the range and intensity of views possessed by those affected by or with a personal/professional interest in adoption.

Responses can be grouped into 4 main categories:

  • Those that were critical of Kayleigh, and her natural mother’s actions and opinions.
  • Those that were supportive of Kayleigh, and her natural mother’s actions and opinions.
  • Those that expressed mixed feelings about Kayleigh, and her natural mother’s actions and opinions.
  • Specific views of respondents who identified themselves as having been adopted.

CRITICAL RESPONSES
Although not by any means a representative sample (far from it), the majority (estimate two-thirds) of respondents were critical of Kayleigh and her natural mother. Some of these responses were hostile, and no small number somewhat abusive:

“Ungrateful little witch”; “nasty little girl…”; “selfish, nasty and ungrateful…”; “cruel and immature…”; “what a cow…”; “traitor…”; “just plain thick…”; “selfish and manipulative”; “What a nasty vile human being!”; “Ungrateful little prat”.

The predominant criticism related to strongly expressed feelings about Kayleigh being ungrateful and showing a gross lack of respect towards her adoptive parents. The fact that the adoptive parents were named in the article, and their home location identified, infuriated many respondents. As did the published speculation by Kayleigh that they became adopters through their apparent inability to have their own children. Critics expressed strong feelings that for Kayleigh to make such comments – and for the Daily Mail to publish them – was quite appalling. Many respondents praised the dignity of adopters for refusing to become involved in any way with the Daily Mail article:

She has no gratitude…there are millions of children who wish and pray for such loving adopted parents like the ones she got, unlike her, they would be grateful and would smother their adoptive parents with love.

Ungrateful. If that is the stance she takes then she should be made to pay back every penny that family ever spent on her which by the looks of it was a lot.

What an ungrateful girl, the least she could have done is to respect them and not trashing them to the media, when their only fault is to love her and her brother too much.

Ungrateful silly girl. She can have the relationship she wants with her mother, but to do that to the people who raised you, spent their money, time and energy on you is disgusting.

Ungrateful little girl. There is nothing wrong with trying to build a new relationship with your birth mother…but show some respect for what your adoptive parents have given you.

How utterly ungrateful. She should be ashamed of herself. Good grief, she would have had a terrible life if she was left with her dysfunctional violent birth mother. What a horrible cow.

She sounds like one of the most selfish, cold-hearted people ever.

 

Many critics predicted that the reunion of Kayleigh with her natural mother will fail after the current “honeymoon” period:

Ungrateful little witch – guaranteed she goes running back to them at the first sign of poverty, or when she is tired of her ‘mother’ letting her down for the umpteenth time…

It won’t last. She’s in the euphoria phase of rediscovering her mother. Before long she’ll be running back to the adoptive mother with open arms.

I would imagine that finding a birth mother would be like a love affair, at the beginning the relationship would be very intense, but normality will start to take over.

She has a romantic idea that her birth mother will love her without imposing any parental authority…

Fast forward one year and by then there will be tears.

There will be massive repercussions for this young lady. The honeymoon period with her birth Mum will come to an end…

Yeah, lets see how long (this) lasts as soon as she wants something.

This relationship with her real? mother won’t last, will she then have the nerve to go running back to the parents who have looked after her all those years.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the novelty of drinking lager, smoking & going to bingo with her ‘mum’ wears off & she realises her adoptive parents only wanted the best for her.

 

Strongly linked with this belief that Kayleigh will ‘run back to the adopters when the reunion fails’ is the prediction expressed by many critics that her natural mother will “show her true colours in time” when the “reality” of her mother’s personality and lifestyle becomes apparent:

Her birth mother is still a stranger. She should tread carefully.

Daughter will be crawling back one day, once she’s realised how useless Mommy is.

Kayleigh would do well to find out the circumstances surrounding her adoption. Many adopted children think their birth parents are going to be wonderful, despite the fact that these were the people who rejected them at birth, or were such hopeless parents their children were removed from their care.

She is who she is due to the parents who brought her up, not her birth mother. I’m sure her birth mother can do no wrong right now, but it’s only a matter of time before she says something that will upset the precious selfish lass and she’ll be off again, blaming everyone else for her problems, except herself.

She wants to be like her mum, a beer swilling, cigarette puffing, benefit claiming slob! Obviously, no matter how hard her adoptive parents tried they couldn’t take the dysfunctional DNA out of her!

 

This issue of genetic influence is one we shall return to.

Critics had firm views as to how the adoptive parents should respond if Kayleigh ‘sees the error of her ways’ and in the future wishes to contact or reconcile with them. They felt that the adopters should have nothing more to do with her:

I hope her adoptive parents don’t take her back when everything goes wrong with her real mother. I feel so sorry for the adoptive parents, what a slap in the face!

Her adoptive parents must never never speak to her or her brother ever again.

Her REAL (adoptive) parents should bill the birth mother for the years spent raising this little ingrate.

If I were her adoptive parents, I’d cut ties as well. Kayleigh’s over 18 now and they don’t have any obligation to her either.

I hope they don’t carry on being soft hearted and ENSURE she is written out of their will, she can’t have it both ways.

These adoptive parents need to let her go and try to get on with their lives without her as it will only hurt them much more if they try to keep in touch.

The adoptive parents should sue this little madam for remuneration.

No worries, adoptive parents. She doesn’t need you anymore. So, change your wills and move on!

I hope your Adoptive Parents will not set themselves up for another disappointment by letting you back into their lives.

 

It is notable that many of the critics made an assumption that the natural mother (Sarah) had voluntarily ‘given up’ (relinquished) Kayleigh for adoption in the first place:

What a cow!! Remember she gave you up!

However, this is by no means clear from the detail provided in the Daily Mail article. It is equally conceivable that Kayleigh’s natural mother opposed her removal from her care and contested the adoption process. If so, this would make this a ‘forced adoption’. On the basis of assumed relinquishment however, critics expressed anger that the natural mother (Sarah) now wanted to enjoy a relationship with Kayleigh without having any responsibility:

It’s only been 5 months. Let’s see the situation in 5 years.

Children are adopted for a reason and when things go wrong their birth parents are suddenly put on a pedestal. Well Kayleigh, you appear very selfish and I hope when this “honeymoon period” with your birth mother comes to an end, you don’t run back to your adoptive parents.

She has not been any expense to the biological mother so that was a bonus for her, just have the daughter turn up fully grown and able to fund her own way. A really good mother!!!!!

And now the little cow feels that her nights are better off gambling, swilling beer and ruining her lungs.Yes Kayleigh, your birth mother is a prime example of what a good mother should be – NOT. This story will have a tragic ending.

 

Throughout the whole sample of responses, there was an important debate, and a wide range of views, as to why the adoptive placement broke down so suddenly (when Kayleigh was aged 22). Critics generally absolved the parenting style of the adoptive parents (nurture) from having any contributory role. It was noted by many that (unlike her brother) Kayleigh was not a teenager when she suddenly left the adoptive home. Also by the age of 22 years, this is by no means unusual or abnormal. Critical respondents also commented that the tension generated when parental ‘protection’ is experienced as ‘controlling’ is by no means specific to adoptive families:

Natural parents can also be very controlling, so this is not an issue related to the adoption. Sometimes a better relationship with parents can be established by living apart from them.

There is of course, another possible explanation for Kayleigh’s clashes with her adopted parents: straightforward youthful rebellion. Most teenagers don’t like following their parents’ rules, but then most don’t have another mother to run to when things at home are tough.

The daughter is 22? This is the phase when everyone dislikes and tries to avoid their own blood parents.

I suspect the ‘cut all ties’ attitude has more to do with not being able to face up to a guilty conscience than it has to do with the parenting abilities of the abandoned parents. Teenagers are good at fabricating excuses for their behaviour and shifting blame to anywhere but themselves: it’s the nature of the beast.

All she has said is that her parents were ‘controlling’ in her teenage years, like pretty much every teenager before her at some point.

 

Responses also highlighted a debate (which can be contentious) regarding the relative influence of nature versus nurture on personality development and relationship patterns. Critics highlighted two explanatory factors (and the interplay between them): a)the impact of genes/DNA (nature); and b) the continuing adverse effects of trauma in Kayleigh’s early life with her natural mother. The discussion of genes/DNA was particularly extensive:

She is not the first and will not be the last to do this. Unfortunately or fortunately whichever way you look at it they have the same genes. Often going back to their roots suits them and they adapt to this ‘new’ life…

…the birth mother and daughter deserve one another…it’s all about themselves. Just goes to show how there is a selfish gene…

Just goes to show the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all…

Some people are born ‘bad eggs’.

This just proves the mother and daughter have the same selfish genes and the ungrateful daughter is as self absorbed as the dysfunctional mother.

To me it proves you can’t fundamentally change a person. You can adopt someone and bring them up well and give them all the love and attention but if they are from a cigarette smoking lager drinking family who had children taken off them in the first place then they are all the same. You can’t change someone’s DNA.

Well there you have it, you don’t breed lambs from lions! She wants to be like her mum, a beer swilling cigarette puffing, benefit claiming slob! Obviously no matter how hard her adoptive parents tried they couldn’t take the dysfunctional DNA out of her!

You can take the girl out of the projects, but you can’t take the projects out of the girl. (USA)

What’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh…

 

Many critics stressed the role of genetic factors contributing to behaviour problems and adoption breakdowns. A similar point was made (although not to the same extent) about limitations in adoptive environments to provide sufficient restitution for the traumatic psychological and emotional harm caused to the child prior to removal into care:

Early life trauma has lasting impacts. A few good dinners, a clean bed and loving arms don’t wipe out past bad experiences…

 

As will already be apparent, critics expressed strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the adoptive parents for their loss, and lack of appreciation. Also with regard to exposure in the international press:

I feel sad only for the adoptive parents – having worked in the adoption and fostering area of social services I have seen what struggles adoptive parents have faced prior to adopting, the infertility and feelings of failure and now she behaves like that towards them!!!!!

How did this story get in the press? This is a private matter and should remain so. It is not fair to name adoptive parents, who cared for you for so long, in this way and be so negative about them. My sympathies have to be with them – how very sad for them.

I feel so sad for the adoptive parents. I bet they wish they’d taken home a rescue dog instead – it would at least have been capable of showing loyalty and faithfulness.

I feel really sorry for the adoptive parents – the total lack of gratitude shown for their years of devotion (even if it was too much) does not deserve this sort of public humiliation.

I feel so sorry for adoptive parents, they took her in, they weren’t perfect but tell me which parent is? She is very ungrateful. But this is the challenge faced by parents adopting after you’ve done the hard work there is the possibility they will seek out their birth mother and forget about you.

 

This point leads into a very strong message from the critical respondents that the publication of stories such as Kayleigh’s will deter people from considering becoming adoptive parents in the future:

She is an ungrateful adolescent, which will only make people ask themselves why give a home to a child in care when they can turn around and slap you in your face.

What a fantastic advert for adoption.

This will put people off adopting.

This must be every adoptive parents’ worst nightmare.

Why would you adopt?

That is why I would never adopt.

This is why I would never adopt a child who has biological parents out there, but only a genuine orphan.

I hope this ungrateful cow hasn’t made any prospective adopters change their minds.

Well done for putting people off adopting the multitude of kids out there that need a loving family.

 

The nature of adoption, and the role of social media, and Facebook in particular, was the focus of critical comments:

The birth mother should have accepted that adoption means forever, and she lost her rights to be that parent when she was far too selfish, and found UNFIT to be that mother.

Another relationship destroyed by Facebook.

 

Some critics blamed Kayleigh’s mother for using Facebook to undermine the ‘nature’ of adoption and tracing her adoptive daughter:

The fact that her birth Mother thought it was acceptable to ignore the adoption rules and contact her daughter on Facebook – says a lot.
What was Sarah doing contacting her through Facebook?

Totally irresponsible woman to contact her birth child on Facebook.

 

Another powerfully expressed theme of the critics related to terminology: who should be considered to be, and called, ‘Mum and Dad?”. Critics were in no doubt that this should be the adoptive parents:

This woman she calls her mom has never been her mom and it’s a little late to start now.

A parent is is the person who raises you, not conceives you.

The people who adopted her ARE her real parents. It takes more than giving birth to be a parent.

…blood is not the deciding factor in parents, it’s the love and heartache that a person puts into raising a child, that defines a true parent.

You were adopted for a reason and your mum and dad (don’t call them adoptive parents) have been there for you through thick and thin.

She is their child, they adopted her, they brought her up, loved her and supported her – to reject them now is disgusting.

Sarah is not her mum she is her mother. Monica is her mum.

Just because that woman gave birth to you does not make her a mother.

Her REAL (adoptive) parents should bill the birth mother for the years spent raising this little ingrate.

This may be her Birth mother but she is not her real mother. The people who brought her up with love are her real parents.

Going public with a story like this is a very nasty ting to do to her REAL parents (i.e. the ones who nurtured and raised her).

SPERM AND EGGS DO NOT A PARENT MAKE!!!

Being able to conceive & give birth does NOT automatically make you a mother, the hard work is in raising them, nurturing, and protecting them.

Horrible story, feel so sorry for the adoptive parents, they are her REAL parents as they were there for her as she grew up.

Your real family is the one that selflessly loves and gives to you – and that can include friends. Blood relatives and sperm/egg donors have no right to claim to be family unless they fulfil this criteria.

 

SUPPORTIVE RESPONSES
At a rough estimate approximately one-third of this non-representative sample were broadly supportive of Kayleigh’s actions. What follows are examples of the key themes expressed within this supportive stance.

Respondents expressed pleasure that such reunifications can occur:

I feel happy reading that the girl will be with the one person she has always craved. I do not think people should be allowed to adopt kids who have family’s who love and want them.

This will be giving hope to the natural parents who so dearly want their children back…It’s lovely her blood Mother can hold her in her arms again – good luck!

It’s great she found her biological mom, they were both looking for each other.

 

Overwhelmingly, the strongest feelings expressed by supporters were associated with the question; “Why should an adopted person be expected to feel grateful?”

Absolutely disgusted by the number of comments and upvotes for people blathering about how she isn’t grateful. Adoptees no more owe anyone gratitude than any other child owes their parents gratitude. Adoptees don’t ask to be ripped apart from their families and given to strangers.

This belief adoptees should be grateful needs to die. It is vile.

It is incredible that in 2014 people are playing the ‘you have to be grateful to be adopted’ card.

She OWES them nothing!! They paid good money to steal a baby from the Natural Mom. They wanted ANY baby. It just so happened it was her…She owes them nothing!!! They owe her because they bought her!! (USA)

Those who are criticising the adoptee’s attitude to her adopters have no idea of adoptions. Many adopters will (unintentionally in many cases) treat the children in their care as if they should be grateful to have a home as if they have been rescued – that is a terrible burden to put on any child.

The old Guilt Trip eh? She did not ask to be adopted. She was powerless in that relationship. She has a right to know her parents, her mother and father.

Good grief – she is not GRATEFUL to have been kidnapped and given to old people to do with as they wished.

How is it that adoptee’s are expected to live their lives making up for the gratitude to the adoptive parents, to me this is is almost a legal form of slavery….

 

Supporters expressed concern about the motives of adoptive parents, and existence of psychological problems and dysfunction within adoptive families:

As for her adoptive parents they were brilliant as parents to children, they just couldn’t let their children grow up.

I’m an adoptee and my adoptive mom was very much like the parents in this article. It’s hard to describe a narcissist to someone who has never experienced one. From an outsider’s point of view it looks like you had everything. Of course, being adopted, gratitude is expected at all times…a narcissistic parent emotionally abuses her children and is VERY good at hiding the abuse/skewing her stories to others to make it all look reasonable.

It is clear that these parents never dealt with their infertility. In turn, the children were regarded as possessions that were supposed to fulfil them emotionally.

If her account is to believed then I would say she was abused. She suffered emotional abuse which resulted in self abuse which is the pattern.

TWO children have left as soon as they could. Most of us have trouble getting the kids to move out! To lose one child is unfortunate but when they both leave home as soon as they can I think your parenting is a problem.

Some adoptive parents are desperate and have issues of their own, and some actually cause harm to the kids in their care.

People think because couples adopt they are amazing and can do no wrong…There are some adoptive parents out there who do stifle and smother kids to a point they will look to rebel elsewhere.

People obsess over adopting a baby or young child and then don’t realise that child eventually grows up and sometimes has different beliefs and values to them. The bigger parent accepts this. But the controlling one’s don’t.

This was the case with my adoptive parents… I’m sure it appeared that they showered me with love. In fact my very move was monitored and I won’t get started on the list of things I wasn’t allowed to do….believe me that loving adoption is not always what it seems.

I think in some cases the bond between adopted children and parents just doesn’t develop and in adulthood the children feel no attachment.

Adopted children learn to be compliant since they’ve already suffered the worst thing, abandonment. You learn that you must be compliant and suppress your own wants, thoughts, and feelings to ensure that your Adoptive Parents are satisfied.

There is the resentment of the children later on when they are older, that they have been taken from their birth parents – and some adoptive parents are desperate and have issues of their own, and some actually cause harm to the kids in their care.

Adoption is like an arranged marriage, it doesn’t always work out.

I’m sure the conversation went along the lines of “whilst you’re under my roof”. Her adoptive dad is 70, that’s how they behave.At 22 she will want to make her own way in life, that’s what happens.

Wow, all adoptive parents have just been raised to saint levels! If they adopted it was to fill a need in them!

 

This linked with the issue already referred to by the critics’ responses about who is really ‘Mum and Dad?’:

Kayleigh is not her adoptive parents’ child; she is Sarah’s daughter.

I’m sorry, but Sarah is Kayleigh’s real mother. Adoptive parents can never be true parents.

Her MOTHER gave birth to her dear. The woman who brought her up is a good woman but she can never have the biological connection the MOTHER has with the DAUGHTER.

Tough isn’t it? She is the child’s mother. She has a biological bond you can never break. She is not your child. She is her own person.

Her Birth Mother is someone she remembers, having left her when she was five, doesn’t matter if Mum is a train wreck in our eyes, she is her Mother.

Adoptive parents cannot replace REAL parents. Fact.

 

The nature versus nurture debate and the significance of the biological/genetic bond was also raised by many supporters with an emphasis on the negative impact of the adoptive environment:

Perhaps (the adoptive mother) wasn’t concerned with her child’s feelings, just with trying to keep her all to herself. Maybe that’s where the girl learned this behaviour.

Why do good results always get attributed to the adoptive parents, but bad are blamed on faulty genetics?

The treatment by her adoptive parents amounted to emotional abuse. Don’t judge unless you have walked in their shoes first.

This goes to show being wealthy and living in an idyllic cottage with ponies, doesn’t make you good parents any more than other parents.

Having children is not about control and trying to mould little versions of yourself.

Perhaps (the adoptive mother) wasn’t concerned with her child’s feelings, just with trying to keep her all to herself. Maybe that’s where the girl learned this behaviour.

I was adopted. Stop calling her spoilt. Her brother left and she was self harming. There were obvious serious issues.

 

Supporters understood and agreed with the need to know, and to have involvement with natural parents and family of origin:

There is an inevitability that children will want to seek out their biological family…it is part of life, and this is never factored in when adoption or fostering takes place, and it needs to be!

It is purely a natural instinct to want to be with a biological mother.

Only people who are adopted can know the pain of not knowing your real parents. My wife was adopted, she had good adoptive parents yet at 66 she is still in pain from not knowing her real parents.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who you were, because nobody in the family shared the same DNA as you, and you couldn’t say you had your mother’s laugh or your father’s eyes or anything like that?

Humans have an innate tendency to care for their own biological family above all – an adaptive trait – so is it any wonder that when they are separated they might search each other out?

At the end of the day all adopted children have a right to know where they have come from and a right to meet their birth parents if they want.

I think nearly all adoptive children seek out their biological family – it’s just a hole they need to fill, though some do wait till after their adoptive parents have died.

The adoptive parents did their best, but I guess that yearning to know about your origins is a strong urge most of us can’t understand.

 

Supporters expressed the view that genuinely loving and altruistic adoptive parents would support the adopted child in ‘searching for their roots’:

Every child is also entitled to understand their birth heritage and by denying their children this information the adoptive parents almost drove her into the arms of her birth mother.

If your adoptive parents are that loving, I am sure they would support you in tracing your roots. Every human being is entitled to know where they come from.

 

Supporters objected strongly to the nature of forced adoptions, and the absence of direct post-adoption contact, knowledge and relationship with members of the natural family:

The adoptive family also did nothing wrong, except adopt a child they were told was not wanted, when that was untrue. The child had no say in the matter. Probably the parents had no say and the social workers made the decision. Adoption is a legal lie.

Blood is thicker than water. People should not adopt children who have a family who love and want them. It is the adoptive parents’ fault they get hurt because most children only want to be with their real family.

It’s not worth adopting a child that HAS a mother who loves her!!! To all adoptive parents do your research before adopting children whose parents are fighting tooth and nail to get back!!

How do you know she was given up and not stolen? If you don’t know nothing about SS you will soon know when they get you.

This young woman was in care, implying the state ‘took’ her. That is a very different story than just being given up. Even with moms who do give up their children, they usually feel forced into it by circumstances, if not outright bullied by the adoption agency. (USA)

Her parents did not give her up she was TAKEN by the state…don’t forget the Bounty social workers get for what only can be called stealing people’s children.

I think adoption is most often a temporary loan…more should be done to keep families together, the child never recovers from the feeling of abandonment.

Adopters have no right to seek to permanently sever the link of the adoptive child to their biological family.

Forced adoption is a form of legalised trafficking…

What is happening with forced adoptions in this country would not be allowed anywhere else in Europe…What will the children think and feel when they finally find out the truth in their forced adoptions?

 

Supporters commented on the lack of services to enable natural families to stay together in the first place:

Just because you’re from a dysfunctional family it doesn’t mean parents don’t love you. SS (social services) (are) too quick to take you away rather than offer support to families.

If social services had supported the birth mother at the outset none of this would have happened!

 

RESPONDENTS WITH MIXED FEELINGS
A third category of respondents was identified who had expressed mixed feelings about Kayleigh’s story (as published). The main characteristic of this group was that they expressed understanding and sympathy towards ‘both sides’: Kayleigh, her mother – and the adoptive parents. Other respondents in this category were critical of all of the parties.

A common response (predominant but not unique to this group) was that ‘only one side of the story has been heard’. It was felt that Kayleigh’s published account was both partial and partisan, and that the views of the adopters should also be heard. At the same time, understanding and respect was expressed toward the adopters for not getting involved in this public fray.

Several respondents noted that Kayleigh’s action (leaving her home at the age of 22 following a dispute) was not necessarily related to adoption. Sardonically, and succinctly, one respondent from the USA simply commented: “Breaking News: 22 year old leaves home!”

Respondents discussed that the family dynamic of ‘protective’ parental behaviour being experienced by teenagers as ‘controlling’ is a dynamic so common as to be considered normal in all families. However, what is different in adoptive families is that the young person has the opportunity of finding ‘another mother’ to run away to:

The difference between most young people and this little madam is that they have no-one else to run to, to complain to. Kayleigh has her biological mother who, no doubt, gives her no rules, asks for nothing, gives nothing (except beer and ciggies), and, no doubt, agrees with all her “complaints” about her adoptive parents with glee.

 

Respondents noted that this reunification outcome of adoption is not unusual. What is different about Kayleigh’s case is the (one-sided) publicity that she has generated. Whilst some respondents felt that this was a good thing in terms of public awareness, others were critical of Kayleigh (and the Daily Mail) for the perceived demeaning and humiliation of the identified adoptive parents:

Sad story and I’d like to think that they can all be reconciled happily some time in the future. Banging on about it in a national paper isn’t really helpful on that front though.

How did this story get in the press? This is a private matter and should remain so.

Talking to the press about your business and exposing those that didn’t choose to air their dirty linen in public is pretty unforgivable.

Going public with a story like this is a very nasty thing to do to her REAL parents (i.e. the ones who nurtured and raised her)…This must be every adoptive parent’s worst nightmare.

How much was she and her new found mother PAID for this interview?

 

Perhaps the strongest view expressed by respondents with mixed views was of the need and opportunity for Kayleigh – and many other adopted young people – to develop and sustain positive relationships with both sets of parents. Many advised Kayleigh to take action to reconcile with her adoptive parents, and not to burn the bridges:

She needs to grow up and go back to her adoptive parents to apologise for just dumping them. She could easily enjoy having two loving families, no need to burn bridges completely.

What a terribly sad story. It’s a shame she couldn’t manage to have a relationship with her birth mother and still maintain a relationship with her adoptive parents.

Perhaps someday soon they they will be wise enough to sit around a table in private and discuss their differences and where things went wrong without animosity.

Both your birth parents and adoptive parents made you the person you are today. Get help to realise it is okay to love both sets of parents, and it is okay to have two Mum’s and two Dad’s, have them all in your life, don’t hurt your adopted parents, the way your birth mother hurt you.

As for the young lady in question here, I am pleased that she found her birth mother, but would advise her not to burn bridges.

I have put so much time, effort and care into negotiating a relationship with both my protective and loving adoptive parents and my birth parents. It has been so difficult to do it without hurting either set of parents, and indeed without upsetting myself, and inevitably people have been hurt. But I stuck with it because I love both my sets of parents and I feel so lucky to have four people who love me so much that they would fight to have me in their lives.

If the birth mother REALLY has her daughter’s best interests at heart, she will encourage her to keep in contact with her adoptive parents, rather than turning it into a competition.

They are all adults now, both sides could make an effort to see the other’s point of view.

I hope the birth mother will do the decent thing and encourage Kayleigh to reconcile with the parents who raised her.

A little understanding on both sides and some counselling for Kayleigh and her adoptive parents would not go amiss. Kayleigh should realise how much fear her adoptive parents must have felt and they should realise that parenthood has to change as kids get older. Its not all dollies and prams. By doing things that they hoped would prevent losing her they lost her – but it’s not beyond hope for reconciliation.

There are no bad people in this scenario, and I can see the situation righting itself, given time. All it requires is a gulp of pride and a phone call.

 

Respondents noted the implications of this story for future reunifications:

This is the thing that all adoptive parents’ dread, the time the birth parents come back into a person’s life…

Expect many adoption parents to be abandoned and possibly court cases against social work departments where the adoptions have been based on falsehoods.

This is not an unusual case, it happens all the time. Many children that did not know biological parents for whatever reason go and find them.

 

COMMENTS BY ADOPTEES
Comments made by respondents who specifically identified themselves as having been adopted were analysed as a discrete group. Themes were similar to those already reported from the critics, supporters, and mixed feelings groups; and the adoptees reflected all three of these stances. However the perspective and emphasis that adoptees gave to certain issues (already discussed) was illuminating.

Positive experience of adoption:
I was given up as a child and thank every day that I was given loving adoptive parents!!

I was adopted and couldn’t be more thankful to the wonderful people I am so proud to call mum and dad that brought me up with respect and love!!

Coming from a similar background, I do all I can for my adoptive parents now they’re older because they’ve always done the same for me growing up…

I was adopted, and glad of it. I knew my birth Mother, and can only say ‘Thank God she didn’t bring me up’!!!!

Negative experience of adoption:
My birth mother put me up for adoption when I was 4 because she was single and I was autistic. Now, I am 31 and she just found me again. In this case, blood is thicker than water. I never identified as part of my adoptive family (I was adopted when I was 8) and they were as different as possible from me. But in talking to my birth mother, I see where I get various traits. She GETS me. I was afraid that this day would come and it would be a total disaster. It wasn’t.

I was adopted. Stop calling her spoilt. her brother left and she was self harming. There were obvious serious issues. I had a controlling adoption and it damaged me. Material things aren’t the be all and end all.

Searching for and contacting biological parents/family:

I was adopted and found my natural family. I can’t describe the guilt I have felt for doing this. My adoptive parents are great people but there was always the thought I might fit in better with my biological family. In the end my natural mother decided against contact, so I’ve had to get on with life.

I first met my real father when I was 45. I needed to meet him, and also to understand why he let me go.

I had wonderful parents. They have gone to heaven now. When I did trace my birth mother after my parents had died, I decided not to go down that route. My birth mother was dead anyway but what I found out was too disturbing. Some things are better left alone!

I found my birth mother and as fantastic as it was it actually made me appreciate my adoptive mother even more.

Wish for contact with biological parents/family:

Unless you are adopted I don’t think you will ever understand what it is like to have a piece of your life’s jigsaw missing. I am adopted and my adoptive parents have raised me well but there was always something missing. I have a wonderful husband and son but needed to know about my past. I am not ungrateful for the upbringing I had just simply wanted to find out where I came from. I was adopted at birth and at the age of 30 made contact with my birth mum. I totally understand where this woman is coming from.

I am myself adopted, my parents are the ones who raised me from 3 months old…both parents have (now) passed away from cancer…so for the purpose of wishing to know what possible illnesses etc run through my genes I have traced the woman who gave birth to me. This woman may have given birth to me, but she isn’t and never will be my Mum….I have now found out my gene history in terms of illnesses so have no further desire to met any of the people I may share blood with. The family I have shared all my life with are my family. In my eyes, to build a relationship with the Lady who gave birth to me would be disrespectful to the memory of my Parents.

 No wish for contact with biological parents/family:

I, for one, have never had anything to do with my birth father, and don’t have any need or inclination to. A parent is the person who raises you, not conceives you.

As an adoptee myself, I find it repulsive and ungrateful the way she has turned her back on the people who loved and raised her. I never understood this need to trace your biological family. My family is my family. I have no interest in getting in contact with my birth family.

I am adopted (adopted at 3 days old) and couldn’t imagine treating my parents so disrespectfully. In fact, my Birth mother has recently got in touch with me and my main priority is ensuring my (adoptive) parents are ‘ok’.

I was in your situation. I rebelled as I felt smothered but I learned very quickly what a real mother was, when I only dipped my toe into finding my family. My biological side can rot, which is no more than they deserve…

What an ungrateful wretch. I don’t understand this mania for finding one’s ‘birth parents’ to discover ‘who I really am’…

Utter disgrace. I was adopted at 6 weeks old. I would have never once dreamed of getting in touch with my birth mother, utter betrayal of the love her adoptive parents have shown in raising her.

Being adopted myself I feel this woman is nothing more than a traitor. My biological mother used adoption as a form of contraception…

Disgusting ungrateful little madam. I was adopted at birth and have no interest whatsoever in meeting my birth parents. My REAL parents are the ones that loved me and raised me to be who I am today.

 Ambivalent re contact with biological parents/family:

As an adopted child I can see the situation from the adopted child’s perspective. Having met my biological mother and having not had the experience I thought I would have I feel there needs to be more openness when it comes to children wanting to meet their birth parents.

I am adopted and traced my birth parents who had gone on to marry each other. Perfectly pleasant people who I have kept contact with, but my parents are the people who raised me and loved me and who I think of as my wonderful Mum and Dad.

 

DISCUSSION
Adoption has a controversial international history. Although officially presented idealistically (and even romantically), adoption has a dark side (Riben 1988). Throughout the world there is a strong historical association with coercive government social engineering policies involving large populations of children being removed from their natural families/communities and migrated into alien environments – all “in their best interests” (Joyce 2013). (I shall elaborate on this history in a forthcoming blog.)

Adoption is known to have mixed outcomes. A significant proportion of responses to the Kayleigh story highlight that many adoptees are indeed very appreciative of the adoption process and their adoptive parents. Nothing in this Blog should be taken to undermine the reality that there are many very successful adoptions (at least from the adoptees point of view).

However, the story of Kayleigh and the online responses to it add emphasis to strong arguments that the current practice of forced closed adoption in the UK is not only conceptually flawed, but in the age of social media, doomed to fail. Unknown, but significant proportions of separated natural families and children will experience the drive to search, make contact, and often reconcile. This leaves adoptive parents highly susceptible to rejection and abandonment by their adopted children. Social media means that reunification with natural families following closed adoption is increasingly inevitable. Adoptive, and prospective adoptive parents need to fully understand this.

Recent research by Selwyn et al. (2014) (see my previous blog) reveals the extent and grave nature of problems experienced in many adoptive families; together with the almost total national absence of appropriate supportive and therapeutic services. In this context, the practice of forced closed adoptions results in many adoptive children being subject to significant psychological and emotional harm through adoptive family dysfunction; as well as by unnecessary loss of, and deprivation of relationship with their natural families.

A very small number of children in the UK do require forced closed adoption. These are children of parents who may have caused serious abuse to a child in the past, and/or have combinations of severe intractable problems. These may include being psychopathic, sadistic, seriously addicted, unpredictable and criminally antisocial. Such parents can be totally unable to cooperate with any form of substitute care arrangements for their children. In some such circumstances, indeed: “nothing else will do” (Re B, Supreme Court 2013) apart from forced closed adoption.

However, these cases are very rare. Instead, increasingly, over recent years, in response to UK government policy, forced closed adoption has been imposed by the courts on families who present nothing like this degree of risk. Even for infants who have never suffered any form of neglect or ill treatment – but where the court considers they would be at risk from “future emotional harm”. (For a prime example of this see the 2013 Supreme Court judgment: Re B (a Child) (FC) [2013] UKSC 33.)

Defining and predicting “future emotional harm” is a truly Orwellian concept. Subjecting such children and their natural families to forced adoption on this basis owes far more to Kafka than to Solomon (or indeed Bowlby). It is both tragic and deeply ironic that babies, infants and young children are being subject to forced closed adoptions on such grounds when the recent research of Selwyn et al (2014) demonstrates vividly the gravity of the actual emotional harm that currently arises for so many children in adoptive placements.

Taking into account the major identified problems with forced closed adoption in the UK – in the context of the general international rejection and revulsion about this practice – it is time for adoption practice in the UK to cease routinely promoting no-contact closed adoptions. Adoption agencies need to grasp the international evidence about the lifelong benefits of ‘open adoptions’ and to prepare prospective adoptive parents accordingly. In all cases, the presumption should be in favour of open adoption (adoptions with some negotiated degree of on-going direct contact with natural family members) – unless there are demonstrably grave reasons why this would create significant risks to the child and/or the adoptive family (which would indeed be so in some rare cases).

This will require a change of philosophy in adoption practice in the UK. Prospective adopters need to be informed about the benefits of open adoption. Social workers and adoption agencies need to develop skills to work constructively with all three sides of the adoption triangle. As many respondents to the Kayleigh story noted: there is a need for adoptees to have appropriate relationships with both sets of parents. Duxbury (2007) has outlined an effective model in the USA for such inter-family collaborative practice.

Selwyn and colleagues (2014) graphically outlined the nature and gravity of the current crisis affecting so many adoptive families, particular as the children reach puberty and beyond. It is striking that there are virtually no appropriate services to help such families in the UK. Specialist family therapy oriented services are urgently required to support all three parties in the ‘adoption triangle’. Without a dramatic reduction in the practice of forced closed adoption, and the development of such family therapy services, thousands more cases like Kayleigh’s will arise. This will result in many more adoptive parents being left feeling rejected, betrayed and abandoned. It does not need to be like this.

 

REFERENCES
Duxbury, M. (2007) Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption. New York: Routledge
Joyce, C. (2013) The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. USA: Perseus Books.
Riben. M. 1988 Shedding Light on the Dark Side of Adoption. USA Harlo Press
Selwyn, J., Wijedasa, D. & Meakings, S. (2014) Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruption. University of Bristol/UK Government Department for Education.

Link to the Daily Mail story:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2599314/Is-story-proves-blood-IS-thicker-water-Her-adoring-adoptive-parents-gave-idyllic-childhood-Yet-Kayleighs-rejected-mother-whos-Facebook.html

This is an important study that examines the extent and nature of adoption breakdown in the UK. Led by an eminent adoption researcher (Professor Julia Selwyn at the University of Bristol) the methodology is thorough, robust, and the findings written in an accessible yet authoritative manner.

Selwyn, J., Wijedasa, D. & Meakings, S. (2014) Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruption. University of Bristol/UK Government Department for Education.

This research will (or should) give all involved in childcare practice much food for thought.
Selwyn and colleagues utilised mixed quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative element involved access to Department for Education (DfE) national records of all notified adoption breakdowns that occurred between 1/4/2000 to 31/3/2011. There were 565 such recorded adoption breakdowns.

The qualitative element involved surveys of two separate group of adopters (N=390); and then interviews with a) adopters (N=70); b) young people who had experienced an adoption breakdown (N=12); and c) adoption team managers. Of the 70 interviews with adopters, half involved actual breakdowns; the other half had not broken down but were experiencing severe stress.

The researchers note that the term ‘breakdown’ has a variable definition in the body of adoption research. In this study, based on a large sample of national records, the adoption breakdown rate overall is recorded as being 3.2%. This is a lower figure than has been recorded in other studies. Reflecting upon this, the authors note that there may be an under recording of breakdowns, and state their view overall that: “It is probably safe to conclude that the proportions of adoptions that disrupt post-order lies between 2%-9%”. (p 275).

This is a nontrivial figure: a level of negative outcome that should cause alarm to government and professionals who are currently striving to increase the numbers of children who are adopted from the care system each year. It highlights that adoption is often perceived and presented as a panacea – an idealistic “happy ever after” scenario. It is not. Adoption (especially forced adoption) has a dark side, and the research by Selwyn and colleagues outlines vividly how desperately unhappy and dysfunctional some adoptive families can become (those that break up, and also many that do not break up).

Selwyn outlines the particular challenges that can arise within adoptive families when the adopted child reaches puberty and adolescence. Most disruptions occurred when the adopted children (both boys and girls) were aged 14. It is striking to read the degree of disturbance and disruption in these families, especially the extent that adoptive parents were afraid of, and physically assaulted by their adoptive children.

It is lamentable to read how impossible it was for many desperate adoptive parents to receive any form of constructive therapeutic help from health or social services during these teenage years. Adoptive parents’ relationships suffered (including separations); adoptive parents developed significant mental health problems; many adopted children became seriously disturbed; and in at least one case in the study the adopted child reported being abused by the adoptive parents.

This study will be heralded by the pro-forced-adoption lobby to highlight the 3.2% identified placement breakdown rate. It will be argued that previous higher breakdown estimates (e.g. 30%) were inaccurate and overstated, and that therefore adoption is an even better policy for children who enter the care system than it was previously believed to be. However, as already noted, an adoption breakdown rate of between 3-9% in itself is of significant concern. Moreover, the research demonstrates that many adoptive families who do not reach the point of breakdown are experiencing severe levels of distress and dysfunction, and are largely abandoned by the ‘system’ as they are unable to access any constructive therapeutic services.

It is of enormous concern that, increasingly, local authorities seek the forced adoption of infants on the grounds (only) of “likely future emotional harm”. Courts are making Placement Orders and Adoption Orders on this basis. It is beyond tragic that some such children will grow up experiencing very significant actual emotional harm in adoptive families experiencing the level of dysfunction described by Selwyn.

The study by Selwyn should cause very loud alarm bells to ring throughout the child protection, adoption, and legal systems.

Whilst the study and report is impressive in its methodology and reporting, there are important limitations in the overall analysis presented by the researchers. It is important to note that this study was commissioned and funded by the government (the Department for Education) – and this was clearly a very expensive research project. It is the DfE that is actively promoting a core political policy that more children should be ‘rescued’ from their families (and the foster care system) and made subject to forced adoption orders. It is also the policy of the DfE that the process of such adoptions should be significantly speeded up. (This was also the policy of the last ‘New Labour’ government, following the lead of the past USA Clinton pro-adoption policies).

To what extent has the DfE funding of the study led Selwyn (and her University Department) to be silent about examining this politically motivated drive for increased adoptions? Given that university childcare research is funded by the government (as most of it is) – how independent can the researchers be? What inhibitions to be critical of government policy arise when, if made, future government funding for departmental research is unlikely to be forthcoming? Ethically, such relationships (and influences) should be reported in the research report. There is a danger in this relationship that the policy determines the research, rather than vice versa.

Selwyn and colleagues find themselves in a position where they have unearthed very significant data that raises major questions and reservations about the government’s policy for increasing the number (and speed) of adoptions, yet they abstain from making any reference to this in their analysis.

There are important missing strands in the Selwyn analysis.

The authors do not locate their study in the context of international adoption research and practice. In fact, a literature review is absent. There is no comment that the UK is almost unique in the world in persisting with forced closed adoption as the ‘answer’ to child welfare concerns. There is no acknowledgement of the major public concerns about past practices of forced adoption that have occurred in many international jurisdictions resulting in formal government apologies (e.g. Australia and New Zealand), and mounting pressure for such apologies elsewhere (e.g. Canada, Spain, Republic of Ireland).

Selwyn and colleagues do not refer to, or discuss, the controversial nature of closed adoption. The UK government’s preferred method of closed adoption in the UK is anomalous compared to practices of open adoption practiced elsewhere in the world (e.g. USA & New Zealand). There is no discussion as to whether the predominant model of closed adoption evident in the sample was appropriate. Or, to what extent some of the major problems that arose in the adoptive placements could have been avoided or mitigated if a model of open adoption had been utilised from the start.

Open adoption promotes cooperative and collaborative relationships between natural parents/families and adopters, so that children can maintain constructive bonds with each family. Instead, the Selwyn research reflects, without comment, the preferred current political stereotype that natural parents/family are inevitably a negative influence, and that ‘rescued’ children should be quarantined in a form of social apartheid totally separate from them and their malevolent influence. Essentially the mistaken simplistic idea, stemming from a common misapplication of attachment theory, is that children can be isolated from psychopathogenic parents, ‘re-potted’ in an adoptive bed, and re-programmed by ‘life-story work’. This polemic sentence encapsulates the mindset displayed by many professionals promoting forced adoption that I have encountered in cases over many years. However, as Selwyn demonstrates, it is a very short term perspective. Study of longer term outcomes reveal that such idealism is misplaced.

For child protection social workers, forced adoption is an easy option. Parents/natural family can be demonised. The need for constructive and reflective engagement can be avoided. Skills to engage humanistically with parents in distress are redundant. Empathy is irrelevant. Supervision (by management) focuses upon completion of computer generated recording of procedure.

Selwyn ignores the fundamental question whether the adopted children in the study actually needed to be adopted. This is not a discussion that the government funders of the study would welcome. However, from a practice perspective it is very clear that local authorities are pushing through forced adoptions in situations where, with appropriate family support and therapeutic resources, children could have been sustained safely in their own families and communities (or returned after a brief period of separation).

Selwyn does not address the destruction of family support resources that has taken place in the UK over the past 20 years; nor the de-skilling of social workers away from therapeutically-intended interventions, toward computer-facing child protection processing. “Think the worst of parents” has become the default child protection social work mindset. ‘Child rescue’ has obliterated ‘family support’ as the social policy priority. Forced closed adoption has come to be seen as the desired outcome of first resort, rather than the last.

Selwyn does not discuss the reality that for an unknown proportion of adopted children in her sample, the problems that arise and accentuate to critical levels may be associated with the consequences of traumatic separation from natural parents/family, and the subsequent devastating psychological and emotional consequences stemming from such losses. ‘Separation’ and ‘Loss’ are at the core of original attachment theory, but the impact of this is largely ignored in current attachment theory dogma which postulates pre-removal trauma as the cause of all subsequent problems. The Selwyn report avoids any discussion of the continuing impact of such losses, and known ways in which an open model of adoption – with some degree of on-going direct contact – can mitigate such consequences.

In summary:

The Selwyn research and report is methodologically impressive and highlights crucial issues.

The research was commissioned and resourced by the government, and avoids any discussion of controversial government adoption policy.

The identified rate of adoption breakdown, between 3-9% is a matter of much greater concern than the authors acknowledge.

The extent and nature of the disturbance and dysfunction within adoptive families interviewed in the sample is alarming.

Even in families where there has been no official breakdown, many adopted children (and adoptive families) are suffering severely.

For such families, appropriate therapeutic, supportive, and respite resources are virtually non-existent.

This is not the portrayal of adoption that the government promotes, nor that adoption agencies present to prospective adoptive parents.

Selwyn does not discuss the question as to whether adoption was the right outcome for the children involved in the first place.

Selwyn does not discuss the limitations and known disadvantages of closed adoption as opposed to models of open adoption utilised in other countries.

Selwyn does not discuss the specific nature and special impact of forced adoption (as opposed to supposedly consensual relinquishment adoptions).

It is not known from the records available in this research sample, what proportion of cases involved forced adoption.

It is not known what the breakdown rates are for forced adoptions as a discrete group.

It is not known what the long term outcomes are for children subject to forced closed adoption.

An important judgment by Mrs Justice Pauffley castigating child rescue mindset based on parents “not prioritising” the needs of their children. The use of “failing to prioritise…” in care proceedings with forced adoption recommendations is one of the grossest misadventures in child protection/rescue practice.

In so many cases local authority social workers simply ‘paste in’ this phrase into their court reports and care plans. It is totally devoid of any theoretical or empirical underpinning. There is no baseline or normative data to clarify to what extent any parent has veered away from what is assumed to be a fundamental requirement of adequate parenting.

I have rarely met any parent who has not at times “put their own needs” above that of a child. It is common with parents who are committed to progressing careers; single parents who work; and parents who have other significant impairments, commitments and responsibilities (e.g. caring for elderly parents or indeed caring for siblings of different ages).

Context and degree is everything, and many children do have to grow up learning that their needs cannot always be prioritised (and finding ways to adapt to this in positive ways). In my experience this is particularly so with the children of parents who have limitations such as learning/physical disabilities or chronic serious physical or mental health problems. In such situations children from an early age may have caring responsibilities for their parent (often, but by no means always, supported by social services in such a role).

Below is a section from Justice Pauffleys judgment – she does not pull her punches (but sadly and tragically for many children and their families far too many judges simply accept such practices).
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/2499.html

From the judgment:
A (a Child)(Fact finding; Welfare; Single hearing; Experts reports), Re [2013] EWHC 2499 (Fam) (07 August 2013) Case handling by the local authority

Turning from the issues for decision to other matters, I cannot leave this case without commenting upon the way in which it has been handled by the local authority.

I take account, of course, of the considerable difficulties drawn to my attention by Mr Date in his final submissions – that the social services department is “an unhappy place;” that Ms Kanii, who had no handover from the previous worker has only been in post for six weeks; that there has been a change of team manager during that time and changes of personnel as well within the legal department. Mr Date accepts that the work of assessment undertaken by Ms Kanii was not as thorough as it should have been and the conclusions reached were incorrect.

All of that said, I should have been in the position of being able to place reliance upon the social work assessment so as to reach proper welfare determinations for IA. I should have had fair, balanced and proportionate advice resulting from a thorough inquiry undertaken over the five months or so since the proceedings were begun in February. I should have been able to view the social workers as experts in relation to the child’s welfare and to repose trust in their decision making.

As it is, I am bound to say that Ms Kanii’s work was of poor quality, superficial and, most worryingly of all, did not reflect the key principles which underpin the workings of the family justice system. I mention just three – first that wherever possible, consistent with their welfare needs, children deserve an upbringing within their natural families (Re KD [1988] AC 806; Re W [1993] 2FLR 625); second, that the local authority’s duty should be to support and eventually reunite the family unless the risks are so high that the child’s welfare requires alternative provision (Re C and B (Care Order; Future Harm) [2001] 1FLR 611); and third that orders ratifying a care plan for adoption are “very extreme” only made when “necessary” for the protection of the children’s interests, which means “when nothing else will do”, “when all else fails.” Adoption “should only be contemplated as a last resort” (Re B [2013] UKSC 33; Re P (a child) EWCA Civ 963; Re G (a child) EWCA Civ 965).

The mother’s second statement refers to the difficulty she encountered in speaking with Ms Kanii. She said she found her “quite intimidating” and she gained the “impression she had formed her opinions before really speaking with (her)”.

I found Ms Kanii to be quite extraordinarily uncompromising. Interested only in repeating her own view and seemingly unwilling to countenance she may have misjudged anyone. Overall, I would have to say she was quite arrogant. She delivered her evidence at breakneck pace and could not be persuaded to slow down notwithstanding several reminders. She referred to the mother throughout as “Mom” which seemed to me somewhat disrespectful. But the most important matter of all is that on any objective analysis, Ms Kanii simply made significant errors of judgment in her appraisal of the mother as well as the maternal grandmother.

In relation to the mother, Ms Kanii said it is “her view that she cannot care for IA. She lacks insight into significant harm. She would fail to protect the baby. She would not be able to prioritise his needs over her own.” Ms Kanii went on to say that the mother would “struggle to prioritise the child’s needs because fundamentally she does not grasp the significance of harm and how that would impact a child.”
As for the maternal grandmother, Ms Kanii’s overall position was that although the grandmother “came across as quite willing, she was not able to prioritise the needs of the child over those of her daughter.”

Challenged in cross examination by Miss Rayson and Miss King, and very properly so, Ms Kanii was essentially unmoved. Her only concession was that in the event the father was found to be the perpetrator then she favoured some further assessment of the maternal family. Although Ms Kanii denied she had “put the boot in” whenever the opportunity to do so had arisen, I’m impelled to say that Miss Rayson’s suggestion was both apt and justified.

Ms Kanii’s written statement and addendum viability assessments, it has to be said, were perfunctory, lacking in balance and indefensibly critical of the mother and grandmother. I was left bemused that such adverse judgments had been made of the mother in particular when the content of her written statements had given me such cause for optimism. My sense was that Ms Kanii could not have read and assimilated the mother’s statements and yet she said she had. More bewildering still was the thought that the mother must have presented very similarly in discussion with Ms Kanii to the way in which she reacted in the witness box. And yet, such harsh judgments were made. It seems to me that Ms Kanii was operating in a parallel universe, intent on securing a placement order whatever the strengths within the natural family.

I don’t think an entirely satisfactory term is as yet established for the practice of legally imposed closed adoptions dispensing with the consent of natural parents/families. I have previously used the term ‘compulsory adoption’, but moved to using ‘forced adoption’ following the formal government apologies (both at a state and federal level) in Australia in 2012 for this past practice. In some papers I have occasionally used the term ‘nonconsensual adoption’, but I don’t know whether that is any clearer or better. However, there does need to be a term for the forced/compulsory/nonconsensual closed adoptions of infants/children. Can Mr Nately suggest an accurate term that would be non “emotive”?

see: http://pinktape.co.uk/cases/rescuing-children-from-significant-harm-looking-forward-with-trepidation-and-hope/#more-4205

I have been involved in court cases involving care proceedings for children (in one role or another) since the early 1980s. On the very few occasions that my expertise (as opposed to my opinion) has been challenged, this has been in the context of apparently badly briefed barristers utilising an affected sneering manner whilst attempting to defend rather weak cases.

With regard to the specific case of ‘Amelia’, I have made clear here, and elsewhere, my view of the damage that is now going to be caused to her by the majority decision of the Supreme Court. I suspect that more detail about the overall handling of the case by the local authority will emerge in due course.

With regard to the general issue of forced/compulsory/nonconsensual closed adoptions, it is notable that there is a lack of specific longitudinal follow up research of such practices in the UK. This applies to the huge population of young unmarried mothers (particularly) in the 1950s – 1970s where coercion to relinquish their babies stemmed from powerful family, religious and state imperatives. In the absence of family, state, and financial support – such mothers had no alternative than to reluctantly relinquish their babies into a closed adoption system.

1n 1987 Margaret Humphreys drew attention to the plight of as many as 150,000 UK children who had been forcibly deported from children’s homes in the UK to Australia (and other distant parts of the Empire) in the post-war period (up until 1967). This reflected government policy of forced child migration, and parents/natural family members usually had no idea where their children had gone. Many were told that their child was dead. This was considered, at the time, to be in the children’s “best interests”. Through her astonishing work, Margaret Humphreys revealed the extent of the privation, harm, damage, exploitation (and in some cases serious physical and sexual abuse) that these children experienced. (www.childmigrantstrust.com)

A new wave of permanent separation of children from their parents with no contact has been in train over the past 15 years or so. It is based upon theoretical misconceptions and misapplications (of attachment theory and increasingly neuroscience) – which like so many previous fads and misadventures in child welfare beliefs  will ultimately be revealed to be fallacious. This reflects another swing of the social policy ‘pendulum’ away from ‘family preservation’ toward ‘child rescue’.

Preference for ‘child rescue’ forced closed adoption as the first resort has become the current dominant ideology in many local authority social services departments. Whatever the reasons for this, the practice is not based on evidence from outcomes research conducted with UK families. It has been referred to by one eminent barrister as “a social policy experiment on a massive scale”. In addition to the lack of outcomes research, there are no statistics kept nationally about the rate of adoption breakdowns in general, and breakdowns of forced adoptions in particular. Some adopting parents also suffer badly from the process, particularly when necessary therapeutic services are not provided despite significant post-adoption family stresses developing.

The ITV series ‘Long Lost Family’ (two previous series and the third currently showing) provides evocative examples of the major unintended negative consequences of the practice of forced/reluctant/no contact adoptions that were considered to be in the “best interests” for children at the time. The escalating practice of forced adoption in the UK is replicating these mistakes and ignoring all international evidence of the lifelong harm or disadvantage that is often caused to children and natural family members.

The major Australian research study that promoted the State and Federal parliaments to issue formal apologies for past practices of forced adoption is well worth reading:

Kenny, P., Higgins, D., Soloff, C. & Sweid, R. (2012) Past Adoption Experiences – National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices: Final report, Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

In the UK there is an urgent need for similar research to review past and current practices of forced adoption from a longitudinal perspective. Is it likely to happen? Hardly.

In all parliaments (States and Federal) the 2012 formal apologies for past practices of forced adoption were delivered with cross party agreement following a long public campaign by many of those affected:

The Minister for education and child development Hon Grace Portolesi MP: “…I have enormous sorrow for those affected by forced adoption practices. It is harrowing to hear the lasting impact of those practices from our past. I believe in the fundamental human right for mothers and fathers to be parents to their children and that children have a fundamental rights to be careful and loved by their parents. Nurture of children and preservation of family goes right to the heart of our society. That is why the day of apology for all of those affected by forced adoption is so important for our community. A mother whose child has been stolen does not only remember that child in mind, but with every fibre of her being. People are still struggling to reconcile what could have been, what should have been, with what is. Today’s apology says we cannot and will not hide behind our history. There were no excuses for these forced adoption practices then, and there is no excuse now…”

The Leader of Opposition Honorable Isabelle Redmond MP: “…However well intentioned the authorities were, their practices are now viewed as inhumane at best, and barbaric at worst…”

Perhaps most pertinently, in his contribution to the South Australian parliament ‘Apology’ speeches 18th July 2012, the Shadow Minister for Families and Communities: Hon John Gardner MP noted: “…There were people at the time who were saying these practices were wrong. There is record of that…”

What I have written should not be taken as reflecting a view that there are never any occasions when a child/children must be permanently separated (and possibly adopted). I have been involved in many fatal/serious case reviews over two decades. There are cases where a parent is so disturbed, psychopathic, antisocial, vengeful, hostile and unpredictable that it is inconceivable that a child could be left in his/her care. I have been involved in a fair number of such situations during my assessment practice career. In such cases direct post-adoption contact cannot be contemplated because of the very real likelihood that the parent would undermine the security of the placement through intimidation or violent behaviour.

Despite their troubled histories, the parents of ‘Amelia’ do not fit into this ‘high risk’ category. The original judge, the appeal court, and the supreme court made this explicitly clear. It appears that Amelia will be adopted primarily because the parents would not agree to, or cooperate with the plan of the local authority that she should be adopted. This is socially chilling.

In the overall population of parents who become involved in care proceedings, parents with high risk (e.g. sadistic/psychopathic/psychotic/severe personality disorder) characteristics are the exception. However, such high risk potential is increasingly being over-generalised to the wider population of parents who come into contact with social services. Many others are being subjected to the draconian outcome of forced adoption in circumstances where packages of monitoring, family support and therapeutic services would ensure child/family safety and well being.

 

 

Notwithstanding the dubious, damaging, and frankly dangerous practice of forced adoption over many decades on an international basis, the current (and previous) UK government is committed to policies and legislative changes that will result in significant increases in children being removed from their natural families and subject to forced adoption by strangers. For babies and infants who come into care (for whatever reason), rapid forced adoption is becoming the primary goal of social services and the courts.

Traditionally (since the 1920s), adoption practice involved the:

“…legal transfer of babies from shameful unmarried mothers to anonymous childless couples. The process was private (the relinquishing mother knew nothing about the adopters), secret (the adoptee was rarely informed of family history) and closed (all contact between natural parent(s) and the adopted infant was totally severed). It is now generally recognised that such practice was psychologically misguided, and across decades commentators have questioned the maladaptive effects on the development of individual identity of adopted children/adults who did not have full information about their family, and genetic and cultural backgrounds. Concerns about the consequences of such ‘genealogical bewilderment’ were raised. Extensive research in the 1980s and 1990s raised further doubts about the social transplantation model of closed adoption in respect of healthy identity formation and stability of placements.” (Dale et al. 2005 p. 200-1)

 

Within the large body of adoption outcomes research, there is very little research that has focused specifically on long-term outcomes for children who were adopted without the consent of their parents. These children are a different group from those who have been the subject of most adoption research (i.e. those who were voluntarily relinquished by their parents).

Research on post-adoption direct contact has noted a history of somewhat polarised views within the professional community about the benefits and drawbacks of post-adoption contact (and these debates continue in the present day). However, there is developing a general consensus in modern post-adoption research that some level of on-going direct contact between the adopted child and his/her natural family is either a beneficial factor, or a neutral factor in relation to the success of adoptive placements.

Follow up research has highlighted that adoptive placements are by no means always entirely successful. Approximately 20% break down at some stage (more likely the older the age of the child at placement); and significant proportions of adopted adults report various degrees of dissatisfaction with their experience of having been adopted. Often such dissatisfaction stems from a sense of confusion about identity and the need to search, discover and reconnect with their genetic and cultural identity and origins. Such searching and reconnecting is a more problematic and poignant experience for adopted adults who were not enabled to maintain direct links with their natural families during their childhoods. One of the benefits of ‘openness’ in adoptions is to minimise the lifelong impact of disconnection from genealogical knowledge and identity (Owusu-Bempah 2007).

It must also be noted that a non-trivial proportion of adoption placements are not successful and either break down completely; or result in the adopted person when adult feeling significantly unhappy about their adoption experiences. In my past as an NSPCC children’s therapeutic services manager, and as a counsellor, I have witnessed far too many situations where adopted children have been returned from adoptive placements back into the care system. There are few situations more distressing in childcare practice than to witness the breakdown of an adoptive placement for a child who has also lost all contact with natural family members.

Also, adoptive families – even when the placements are apparently successful as many appear – can suffer the same unexpected adverse life events as families in general. Adoptive families can become disrupted due to marital breakdown, serious illness, premature deaths, and other unpredictable tragic events. The point of this observation is that (unless there are serious reasons to the contrary) one further benefit of direct post-adoption contact for a parent who has come to accept the nature of the adoption, is that they remain as a supportive and reassuring resource for their child in the event of any such unexpected event occurring.

On the basis of this discussion, there is not a strong research base to sustain professional views that some level of on-going direct contact will be harmful to a child or to an adoptive placement (except in the rare situations where a natural parent might pose a threat of serious harm to the adoptive household). The benefits of post-adoption contact include:

•           Short term: Avoiding the potential disadvantages from total separation and loss of a significant current attachment figure.

•           Long term: Facilitating the maintenance of a distant but a meaningful relationship with the natural parent during childhood, as the basis for free choice in later life (later childhood and adulthood) as to what form of lifelong relationship should exist with the natural parent (and any further siblings that may arrive).

Neil & Howe (2004) summarise the benefits of post-adoption direct contact as being:

“…to help children meet their three basic developmental needs of attaining good mental health (achieved in the context of a secure relationship with sensitive carers); resolving issues of loss and trauma; and achieving a strong sense of personal identity and genealogical connectedness.” (p. 239).

 

The Family Rights Group produced a useful research-based summary of the main benefits to children of direct post-adoption along the following lines:

•           It enables children to sustain established relationships and to avoid experiences of separation and loss, which can be damaging.

•           It enables children to stay in touch with important people which can help children settle into their new families.

•           It helps children to understand their ‘roots’ – the ‘Who am I?’, ‘Where do I come from?’ and ‘Why was I adopted?’ difficult (and sometimes disruptive) questions that often arise for adopted people.

•           It provides an input of continuing thought and care from birth family members (research indicates that a non-trivial proportion of adopted children grow up feeling rejected and unloved).

•           It helps children feel positive about their own family backgrounds, and reduces the disruptive potential for extreme positive or negative fantasises.

 

Direct contact also helps adoptive parents to help their adopted child by:

•           Helping adoptive parents to empathise with the birth family and to answer questions raised by the child in a sensitive way

•           Enhancing the adoptive parents’ sense of ‘entitlement’ to the child

•           Providing on-going information about the child’s genetic inheritance

•           Facilitating a climate of open communication in the adoptive home about the adoption.

 

The frequency of contact (after an initial staring point) is best negotiated (or mediated) between the natural and adoptive families in the context of acceptance of the need for flexibility and evolution over time. When openness in adoption works well, it is in the context of individual agreements emerging that are suitable to the adoptive and natural parents (so long as both maintain the child’s best interests as their priority). A recent American book: [‘Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption’ Duxbury, M. 2007] provides many good example of this.

Given the current government promoted ‘rush’ for forced adoption, it is of great concern that:

a) Adoptive parents often are refused vital therapeutic resources by local authorities for difficulties that arise as their adopted child(ren) struggle to adjust to their losses, past hurts and damage, transition into new identities/family cultures, and divided loyalties.

b) Local authority social workers continue to simply ‘paste in’ formulaic indirect “letterbox contact” arrangements into Care Plans, ignoring the recognised benefits of carefully negotiated direct post-adoption contact that is possible in many cases (if suitable efforts are made).

c) The current UK ‘rush’ for increased forced closed adoptions has no basis in outcomes research, or practice wisdom. There is no research in the UK that examines the long-term outcomes for children who have been subject to forced closed adoption.

d) The current UK ‘rush’ for forced adoption ignores the disastrous UK history of ‘Child Migrants’ where many thousands of children from Children’s Homes were forcibly migrated to UK colonies – particularly during the 1950s–1970s. Read the astonishing dedication of Margaret Humphreys (supported by Leicester Social Services Department) in bringing this to public attention (Humphreys 1996).

e) The current UK ‘rush’ for forced adoption ignores the Australian/New Zealand Aborigine/Maori formal government apologies: The ‘Stolen Generations’ involved approximately 100,000 children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families (between 1909 and the early 1970s) by Australian government and church agencies to be raised with white families. The Australian Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) delivered a formal apology to the federal parliament for this history on 13th February 2008.

f) The current UK ‘rush’ for forced adoption ignores the formal apologies that were made in each Australian state parliament in 2012 concerning the widespread past practices of forced adoption of babies of young unmarried mothers over many past decades (Kenny et al. 2012). A further formal apology for past practices of forced adoption was made to the Australian Federal Parliament in March 2013, by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Past practices of forced adoption are also currently a matter of great public concern in Spain (‘ninos robados’) and Ireland.

In an increasingly social networked world, it is inconceivable that forced closed adoptions will sustain in practice in the UK. The internet will facilitate forcibly adopted children finding their natural families and vice versa. Forcibly adopted children will discover that their histories are often rather different than they have been brought up to believe. They will learn in many cases how hard their natural parents fought to keep them – and, that natural family members not ogres as they have been portrayed.

Many will become angry with their adoptive parents, and vote with their feet; returning to live within their natural families (this has already started to happen). Adoptive parents will be left feeling abandoned, rejected, bewildered and deeply hurt. It is my experience that very few prospective adoptive parents are warned about these risks that stem from closed adoptionis.

REFERENCES

Dale, P. and Davies, M.  (1985). ‘A model of intervention in child abusing families: A wider systems view’.  Child Abuse & Neglect, 9, 4, 16-21.

Dale, P. & Fellows, R. (1999). ‘Independent child protection assessments: Incorporating a therapeutic focus from an integrated service context’. Child Abuse Review, 8, 4-14.

Dale, P., Green, R. & Fellows, R. (2005) Child Protection Assessment Following Serious Injuries to Infants: Fine Judgments. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Duxbury, M. (2007) Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption. New York: Routledge.

Humphreys, M (1996) Empty Cradles. London: Corgi Books

Kenny, P., Higgins, D., Soloff, C. & Sweid, R. (2012) Past Adoption Experiences – National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices: Final report, Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Monck, E. (2004). Concurrent planning: meeting the needs of younger looked after children. ChildRight, April 9-11.

Neil, E. & Howe, D. (eds) 2004. Contact in Adoption and Permanent Foster Care: Research, Theory and Practice. London: BAAF.

Owusu-Bempah, K. (2007). Children and Separation: Socio-genealogical Connectedness Perspective. London: Routledge.

 

 

Attachment theory is currently a dominant belief system in child welfare agencies in the UK (especially social services and Cafcass). It has become strongly associated with the impetus to drastically increase the numbers and the speed of forced adoptions. Forced adoption is a simplistic and cheap process based on ‘child rescue’ philosophy that demonises natural parents/families, and dismisses the need for, and value of, therapeutic/supportive services to families. According to one eminent barrister, the current wave of forced adoption is a “social experiment on a massive scale”. There is no long-term follow up research in the UK about the outcomes of forced adoption. The logic of the process relies fundamentally on misapplication of attachment theory (and increasingly on similar misapplication of neuroscience).

 

Attachment is one component of a parent-child relationship. Attachment is the aspect of a parenting relationship that reflects the extent to which the parent is able to provide a secure emotional base from which the infant can feel confidence to explore the environment, and be a preferred person for the infant to return to if feeling vulnerable. The development of attachment theory (in the 1950s and 1960s) was based on observations of infants’ responses to separation and loss of mother figures. Bowlby (1951/1980) developed the theory in relation to maternal deprivation. The study of the Robertson’s (1953/1970) on children admitted to hospital construed reactions to prolonged separation as involving three stages of adaptation: protest, despair and then detachment. This resulted in significant changes in hospital visiting policies –previously parental visits had been restricted so that children would “settle”. Rutter (1981/1995) clarified that infants can form multiple attachments.

 

Theorists have developed classifications of attachment patterns or style. The ‘Strange Situation’ test was designed in the 1960s to artificially create brief separation stresses for infants to monitor their responses (Ainsworth et al. 1978). From such experiments the notion of secure and insecure attachment types was developed. Much of this research stems from studies in the USA in the 1960s/1970s on non-separated Caucasian mother-infant dyads. The research did not involve infants separated from their parents on a compulsory basis.

 

Attachment theory is currently a dominant theory in child welfare. Assessments of attachment (based on observations and pragmatic variations on the ‘Strange Situation’) including ‘story stems’ (with older children) are often used to inform child protection assessments. Specifically, observations of ‘insecure’ attachments (e.g. ‘avoidant’,  ‘ambivalent’ and ‘disorganised’) between mothers and infants are often used as indicators of future risk and as part of the rationale for non-reunification and compulsory adoption. However, there are grounds for concern about the validity of such observations particularly when they take place on only one or two occasions (‘snapshot’ assessments) – (Gillen, 2002; Dale et al. 2005).

 

There is no research base in attachment theory supporting predictions of risk to be made following observations of ‘attachment’ between mothers (and fathers) and infants who have been subject to forcible separation and often a prolonged period in substitute care (sometimes including more than one placement). That is to say, there is no standardised approach for the forensic application of attachment theory. When observations of ‘attachment’ are made in situations of separation, great caution must be exercised to take fully into account the impact of the separation itself (on both mother and infant) in respect of the observations that are made. Returning to an earlier attachment concept: to what extent is the observed behaviour a significant consequence of the separation (e.g. protest, despair or detachment) – rather than reflection of an innate parental deficit in being able to promote attachment responses?

 

In addition to the risk of failing to sufficiently consider the impact of separation, the clinical/forensic application of attachment theory in child protection assessments can also be subject to other biases. For example, it can be argued that attachment theory underestimates the significance of infant temperament/development on observations (emphasising parenting style instead). Also, research is clear that significant proportions of non-clinical populations of children and adults are classifiable as having insecure attachment styles. Insecure attachment styles in themselves are not necessarily pathological and nor do they necessarily imply risk (of child abuse). Indeed ‘insecure’ attachment styles can be adaptive and contribute to resilience in dealing with complex and stressful situations.

 

The eminent UK attachment researcher Professor David Howe has warned:

 

In child care and family work, classifying attachment styles, whether in children or adults, in itself has only limited value. It has to be remembered that in any normal population of either children or adults, around 40 to 50 pre cent of individuals will be classified as insecurely attached. Clearly, in most cases there is nothing pathological or clinically significant about being assessed as insecurely attached. In this restricted sense, not a great deal can be made of the suggestion that this child or that parent has an insecure attachment. (Howe, D. (2003) Assessments using an attachment perspective).

 

Courts are remiss in ‘rubber stamping’ forced adoption applications by local authorities (and supported by Cafcass) that are fundamentally based on attachment theory misconceptions.

The President of the Family Law Division is expecting local authority social workers to be experts:

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/pfd-process-reform-revised-plo-may-2013.pdf

I guess it all begs the question what an ‘expert’ actually is.

The best definition I ever heard is: “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until he/she knows everything about nothing”. (Source unknown)

In the care proceedings context at the very least one would expect a social work expert to:

a) possess up-to-date research and practice knowledge about the issues of concern;

b) have the ability to critically evaluate research findings, their implications and limitations;

c) have the ability to synthesise and analyse complex information and dynamics;

d) have the ability to promote constructive professional relationships with (often) highly stressed parents and family members;

e) have the ability to evaluate the ‘pros and cons’ of possible outcomes from a neutral perspective;

f)  have the ability and willingness to self-monitor susceptibility to forces that promote cognitive and emotional biases; and

g) be personally responsible for all opinions formed and expressed.

Sadly, and alarmingly, many (or all) of these factors are often absent in documents I see presented to courts by local authority social workers as part of care proceedings.

a) Research references are randomly sprinkled into reports without any linkage to topic, and without any discussion of limitations of research. Or research is ignored completely (probably on the instruction of the local authority solicitor who knows that the social worker will be undermined through lack of research knowledge on cross examination).

b) Very few (and rapidly diminishing) numbers of local authority social workers demonstrate that their training has equipped them to understand research methodology, or the extent of relevant research to the issues in the case.

c) So often local authority social work reports to courts are turgid, repetitive, descriptive accounts with no synthesis or analysis. it is almost as if the weight of the local authority bundle is considered to be the most effective way to get the court to agree the care plan.

d) Parents report time and time again that their social workers (there are excellent exceptions) have neither the time, inclination or basic social skills to engage in constructive discussions. Some parents involved in complex and contentious care proceedings say they never see their social worker outside of formal meetings; others report having frequent and unannounced changes of social worker. In my visits to social work offices, it appears to me that the culture of local authority social work increasingly resembles that of a call centre: impersonal, ‘hot-desking’, computer-inputting and rapid staff turnover.

e) In so many cases I am involved in, the local authority has clearly decided from a very early stage that it wishes to pursue forced adoption, and on that basis other alternatives are not given full and proper consideration. Policy determines plan – which in the field of complex human/family relations and risk assessment is not expertise.

f) This is the transference/countertransference issue that is central to many forms of therapeutic training: maximising awareness of sources of personal cognitive and emotional bias on perceptions and opinions. Particularly common examples in many local authority social work reports is the phenomenon of ‘seeing only what fits the theory/policy’. So many parents (noted extensively throughout international research) say that “social workers only see and write down the bad bits”. This is also known as the verificationalist bias – observations are only made and reported of material that supports the pre-existing belief/plan.

g) The question of whether local authority social workers in this context are ‘expert’ – begs a question whether they can be considered to be professionals. A fundamental component of professionalism is the authority to personally form justifiable and informed opinions. Far too often in current care proceedings cases that I come across, the social workers are administratively implementing decisions that have been made by others (often a combination of previous social workers and managers). Such an implementation role is barely professional; and hardly expert.

A long time ago whilst working for a local authority I had the role of Mental Welfare Officer, which included being part of a process for arranging compulsory psychiatric admissions. Through a legal quirk, it was always the case (at the time) that the MWO was personally legally and professionally responsible for such actions (event though being employed by the local authority). It certainly focused the mind on the professional and momentus nature of the task (along with a strong impetus to search for non-coercive alternatives).

I suspect the practice of local authority social work would be very different if all social workers were personally responsibly for all coercive actions that they took or recommended as part of their role.

In this context, there is – to say the least – significant doubt that local authorities are going to be able to deliver what the President of the Family Division appears to be expecting. Like Eileen Munro, I would like to see it happen; but how is a skilled, knowledgeable, stable, professional – and expert – local authority social work workforce going to emerge?

 

A visit to Manhattan family court in New York. A massive, purpose built building with serious security procedures for entry. Very visible presence throughout the public spaces and court rooms of uniformed (paramilitary style) and armed NY Court Service staff. Reception was friendly when I explained the purpose of my visit (observation and discussion). We sat in Part 7 (courtrooms are called ‘Parts’ for some reason I did not establish); and this was a morning of juvenile hearings. The judge was Hon Mary E Bednar, presiding. Compared to an English court room, the atmosphere was informal and non-intimidating. Apart from the proceedings being managed by an armed uniformed NY Court Service official who acted as usher and court clerk (addressing the defendants to identify themselves and to tell the truth). The manner of this armed official was matter-of-fact, and friendly, and non of the defendants or family members appeared to be intimidated. He remained standing, at all times, in front of the judge’s bench between the judge and the family. Three other NY Court Service staff were in the courtroom at the same time, at least one them armed.

It was striking that the judge stayed in the courtroom throughout the whole morning, even when there was a gap between cases (NY Court Service said the gaps are “because we are always waiting for the attorneys”). During these gaps Judge Bednar rustled papers, read the newspaper, and ‘joshed’ with other court officials. There was non of the bowing and scraping and artificial deference which is so characteristic of English courts.

We saw three cases being dealt with. All were reappearances for updates in what is clearly a lengthy dispositional process. In one case a young teenager appeared with his father and his attorney reminded the judge that both the boy and his father were homeless. Judge Bednar expressed her surprise to the prosecutor at the level of offence the boy had been charged with: “He stole a bag of chips and a bottle of soda – he’s homeless, he was hungry, what do you expect him to do?”

Another case involved a teenager who was charged with attempting to supply illegal drugs. The boy pleaded not guilty on the basis that what he had supplied was not drugs but paint ground into powder. Judge Bednar addressed him directly: “Are you crazy? That’s how people get shot!…”

The outcome for both youngsters was a further period of adjournment for them to demonstrate good behaviour to the Probation Department for final sentencing. After a long wait following the third case Judge Bednar left announcing that she had a doctor’s appointment and wouldn’t be back until 3pm.

I was able to have a short interview with the Deputy Clerk of the Manhattan family court. We discussed the issues around the court being open to members of the public. The clerk said he had worked there for 30 years, and was against the recent changes that now allow public access to all family court hearings. He said that the change had come about following pressure form the press: “Who appear to think that we spend our time boiling children in here”. His main objection to public access seemed not to be any principle, but based on practicalities and distractions with people entering and leaving the courtrooms. He said in practice, there had been very little attendance at hearings by the public, and not one incident of deliberate disruption.