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Adoption contact and siblings forewords

My forewords to the DfE consultations on contact between birth families and children in care and on siblings and adoption

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Adoption contact and siblings forewords

  1. 1. DfE papers on Contact between children in care and birthfamilies and on siblings and adoption.Introductory Forewords (2) by Martin NareyContact Consultation ForewordDuring the past year and since my appointment as adoptionadvisor to the Government, I have visited a large number of localauthorities and voluntary adoption agencies, and met manyhundreds of individuals involved in adoption.Whenever I sit down with practitionersor adopters to discussadoption and wider issues of care, I invariably ask them to tell mewhat worries them. Contact has been one of the subjectsmentionedmost frequently.The more I have listened, and the more I have read the extensiveresearch which is available, the more I have become concernedthat, although it is invariably well intentioned, contact harmschildren too often.But let me be very clear. Most children who come into care entercare for short periods and are soon reunited with their families. Iam not remotely suggesting that contact should not take place inthose circumstances. Even when children are in care for longerperiods, and before it is clear that adoption is the right path forthem, I expect contact with their natural parents and families to bethe norm.But I do argue that such contact should be agreed onlywhen it is in the best interests of the child. The current legislativepresumption in favour of contact and which sometimes leads tocontact being seen as inevitable, needs re-examination.In the large majority of cases where contact is appropriate, there isa need for local authorities and the courts to look critically at theamount of contact. Daily contact sessions, often lasting more thantwo hours, sometimes preceded and followed by long journeys are
  2. 2. not in the interests of the child and are too often distressing tothem. This is of particular concern when contact involves aninfant.I believe that contact should happen much less frequently by thetime a child receives a Placement Order. At this point,reunification with the birth family is only a remote possibility.Contact should happen only when it is, demonstrably, in thechild’s interests. And after adoption, birth family contact,including letterbox contact, should only take place when theadoptive parents are satisfied that it continues to be in the interestsof their child. Although the legal position on this is clear I hearfrom too many adopters who feel informally bound to allowcontact despite their grave reservations.But these are very difficult issues and I am very pleased thatbefore coming to a conclusion themselves, that Michael Gove andTim Loughton are seeking views. I hope thatsocial workers andother practitioners, magistrates and judges, birth families andadoptive families as well as older adoptive children and adoptedadults will let Ministers have their views. I have been pleased toprompt what I believe to be a crucially important debate.Siblings ConsultationSoon after my appointment as the Government’s AdoptionAdvisor, I attended a meeting at 10 Downing Street where wediscussed how the Prime Minister might encourage more familiesto come forward to adopt the large number of children in care whowere in sibling groups.At that time, it did not occur to me to question the policy ofkeeping brothers and sisters together. It seemed to me - selfevidently – to be the right thing to do.But over the last year I have become troubled by the extent towhich the strong presumption in keeping sibling groups intactmay disadvantage children, at best delaying and sometimespreventing their adoption. Additionally, I have learned, first
  3. 3. through visiting the excellent Family Futures adoption agency, andthen through meeting parents of adopted siblings, that even whenthere are adopters willing to take on the challenge, keepingsiblings together may not always be in the interests of individualchildren. For example where, through a period of neglect, an olderchild has been effectively parenting a younger child, it can be vitalfor them to be separated so that each can develop a positiveattachment with their new parents.Currently, there are too few adopters willing to take on thechallenge of sibling groups, particularly those of three or morechildren. I am very clear that we need to do more on recruitmentto close the gap between siblings in care and adopters willing toadopt them. But, as this document explains, the gap is immenseand I very much doubt that it can ever be plugged through bettermarketing and recruitment.But even if we saw a flood of adopters coming forward there areother reasons to be cautious. The evidence suggests that keepingsiblings together may not always be in the interests of eachmember of a sibling group and younger children, in particular, canbe damaged. And sometimes the challenge of adoption andcompensating for an early life of neglect and abuse might beconsiderably easier when parents are coping with just one childand not two, three or four.Sibling relationships are important and I am not suggesting thatwe should not do what we can to keep siblings together. Justyesterday, I was buoyed by a conversation with one adoptivefather who spoke entirely positively of his experience of adoptinga brother and sister simultaneously. But the presumption thatkeeping siblings together needs to be tested in each instance andwe need to be certain that we do not relegate the interests of onesibling to the interests of another.But, as with the subject of Contact, on which Ministers have alsoasked for views, this is a difficult and often emotive subject and itis vital that the Government gets policy and practice right. So Iwelcome Ministers’ decision to open a debate and I hope that all
  4. 4. those involved in adoption: professionals; magistrates and judges;adopters and the adopted will respond.Martin NareyGovernment Advisor on AdoptionJuly 2012