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Is Cameron right to redevelop the adoption system?


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Following statistics that show a decline in the number of children being matched for adoption, David Cameron has called for a review that will speed up the adoption process for babies under one year of age. This could lead to brighter futures for children across the UK.

According to recent statistics, between 2010 and 2011 there was a 5% decrease overall in the number of adoptions, in spite of a rise in the number of children placed in care homes.

When it came to babies under a year old, the study showed that 3660 were in care. Of those children, only 60 were placed for adoption. It is in the light of this downward spiral that David Cameron is enforcing the ‘Foster For Adoption’ plan, which aims to place babies with foster parents planning to ultimately adopt them. He hopes that this will “avoid the disruption that can be so damaging to a child's development and so detrimental to their future well-being."

In my opinion, this is a commendable project, though there are some anxieties as to the problems it could produce. Plans have been set in place to speed up family court proceedings to six months compared to the current average of over a year, through the new Children and Families Bill which is expected to be enforced next year.

Lisa Nandy, minister for the labour party, has voiced concerns that the legislation “may lead to rushed decisions or put local authorities off recommending children for adoption in the first place.” It is important that authorities make the right decision, as adoptive “re-parenting” is a specialised therapeutic method for cared-for children as much as it is the means of bringing love back into their lives.

That said, the current adoption process takes an average of fifteen months through the courts, affecting the statistic that on average children are adopted at just under four years of age. To me, the psychological effects of a disrupted childhood far outweigh the dubious risk of a rushed decision.

According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory, which maintains that an individual’s personality is determined by the expectations imposed upon them by society, in its first year a child develops its sense of trust in the world. A “safe” face, in the form of a parent or carer, is vital in the development of a child’s sense of security. Up until the age of four, it is important that children have the ability to explore their autonomy and power to make decisions without being ridiculed, be it through choice of clothing or food, in order to nurture their self-esteem.

The longer children are kept in care, the more they are deprived of these vital stages in development, leading to long-term difficulties in their behaviour and dependency on others.

One case outlined by Adoption UK speaks of “Db”, a child who experienced “huge trauma and abuse within the first few weeks of life”, which continued in the year he was kept in care. The report underlines the lasting effects of this abhorrent childhood, and the overwhelming problems that come with it in his ability to cope with human relationships. Based on the instability and potential for abuse in child care homes, to me it is irrefutably preferable that a child’s major developmental stages are spent in a family environment with prospective loving parents rather than in care.

Furthermore, the worry of fewer children being put forward for adoption becomes less of a threat when we consider how cared-for children are currently treated. Social workers have the power to delay matching ethnic minority children in favour of waiting for a suitable white child: in comparison, black children take 50% longer to find an adoptive family. The new proceedings will include preventative measures that will eradicate this trend, leading to much fairer treatment of those in need of a home.

Plans are based on current practices in councils such as Harrow. Since 2006, this area of London has been working with children’s charity Coram to match cared-for children with the organisation’s list of potential families. It takes an average of four months to place a child, and to date the charity has enjoyed a 97% success rate in its matches. This is a significant improvement on recent figures revealing that one in five adoptions break down nationwide.

With so many unnecessary obstacles and flaws in the current adoption system, and such promising results from new procedures, a review alongside the Children and Families bill is not a divisive idea. In my opinion, it is fundamental to improving the quality of life for children in need of a loving home.

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