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Times adoption and siblings dec 2012

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Why siblings need sometimes to be separated for adoption for their own good

Why siblings need sometimes to be separated for adoption for their own good


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  • 1. Brothers and sisters are sometimes bad for eachother when it comes to adoptionThere is a worryingly large number of children who have beenapproved for adoption but are still waiting for a new family.That figure now tops 7,000.As things stand, some of thosechildren are going to wait for ever. And those waiting withtheir brothers and sisters are the most likely not to find a newhome. If we are to change that, we must put aside some of theorthodoxies of social work and look at the evidence. That isnot always easy.It has been 18 months since I joined the Times campaign toget more children adopted and to advise Michael Gove, theEducation Secretary, on this issue. Significant progress hasbeen made and we have already seen a rise in the number ofchildren who have been found new families. But big problemsremain, not least recruiting adopters.My recommendation earlier this year that we needed to bemore ready to separate siblings for adoption was met with anemotional response from some social workers, lawyers andmembers of the public. That is hardly surprising. The naturalinclination in all of us, particularly when we are dealing withchildren already separated from their birth parents, is to keepbrothers and sisters together.And it is true that sibling relationships are hugely important inchildhood. Although it dims during adolescence, that bondbecomes stronger again in later adult life. I was one of ninechildren, growing up in a somewhat crowded but deeply lovinghome in Middlesbrough. This provided the foundation forrelationships with my brothers and sisters, which are strongerthen ever today as I approach 60. But that foundation wasmade in a loving and stable environment, not in a home whereneglect or abuse dominated.There is a romanticism attached to the importance of brothersand sisters that can lead to a determination to keep themtogether, no matter what. In my experience that determination
  • 2. is fuelled by good intentions but it can also mean closing themind to the possibility that separation just might be beneficial.Yet we have known for almost 20 years, thanks to the work ofthe social worker Marjut Kosonen, that separating siblingswho have been abused or neglected can be the right thing todo. Brothers and sisters may well have had to compete tosurvive, to get love or attention, even to be fed. Such traumacan tightly bind siblings together in baleful way. That “traumabond” can mean an older, more damaged child can hobble thechances of a younger sibling growing up healthy and happy.Or fractured sibling relationships can be continued withunhappy consequences in a new setting.With very few undamaged children in the care system,adoption today is more difficult than in the past. And yet toomany local authorities are willing to contemplate giving newparents the challenge not of adopting one damaged child, butsometimes three or four, and all at the same time.The potential adopters of siblings are simply not there. Rightnow, on the adoption register, there are 104 families willing toconsider two or more siblings, but there are 1,108 childrenwaiting in sibling groups. There are 246 children in siblinggroups of three or more, but just four families willing toconsider adopting groups of this size.A year ago, I still believed the orthodoxy about siblings. Ithought the way to reduce the waiting list was simply tomarket sibling adoptions better and persuade more would-beadopters to take on the challenge of two or more children. I’mnow quite certain that this is not the answer.Throughout the adoption campaign I have been buoyed bycorrespondence from a small group to whom local authoritiesand social workers should listen much more: those who havealready adopted sibling groups.With great courage a numberhave written to me to share their experiences. One, who hasallowed me to quote her, movingly outlined her struggle oversix years, helping two brothers recover from the harm causedby their shared neglect. She ended her note poignantly, and
  • 3. with this: “I love them very much indeed and will doeverything I can for them but the one thing that I reallywanted to tell you is this — if I could make one change toeverything that has happened, I would have separated my twoboys.”Martin Narey is the Government’s adviser onadoption and a former chief executive of Barnardo’s