I have an iPod Touch on which I can read the online version of The Independent, so that I have some knowledge of what's happening back in the UK. I was saddened this week, to put it mildly, to read that last year there were only 60 children adopted in England.
This article particularly caught my attention because when I served as a magistrate a part of my duty was to sit in the Family Proceedings Court which deals with local authority applications for care orders. It was the most challenging and difficult work that I had to do. The decision was in our hands as to whether a child remained in its birth family or was taken into the care of the local authority, perhaps then to be adopted into an entirely new family with no further contact between itself and its birth parents.
Our deliberations were structured around the 1989 Children's Act,(new legislation has now been passed, but the basic approach remains the same) which has at its core this principle: "The welfare interests of the child shall be paramount." There is no stronger word in the English legal language than 'shall'. It brooks no exceptions; it describes something which is mandatory.
In an ideal world, of course, the welfare needs of the child are best served by being brought up in its birth family, but this is far from being an ideal world. Sadly there are many parents who are unwilling or unable to give priority to their children's needs over their own, often to the point where the child suffers actual emotional and or physical harm in its own home. Too often, if no one intervenes this leads on to problem, antisocial behaviour by the child, leading very often into petty criminality and worse.
The welfare of such children demands that they be given a fresh start in a stable and loving environment. That means that there must be a supply of people willing to put themselves forward to be assessed as potential adoptive parents. This is crucial, because if there is not an adoptive home for the child to go to, then its fate is likely to be life in a local authority home (even the best are institutional) or to be placed in a series of short and medium term foster homes with the inevitable instability and anxiety for the child. Children who have had this experience feature prominently in our prisons, drug and alcohol rehab centres and hostels for the homeless.
A side effect of the success of assisted fertility services has been to reduce the number of couples who, having failed to conceive their own child, are prepared to give their love instead to a child whose own start in life was one of abandonment.
Without sufficient prospective adoptive parents, these children can only dream of a better future.