Thursday 9 February 2012

Handle with care

Councils refer record number of 

children into care

The number of children referred into care in England has hit a record high.

Last month, local authorities made 903 court applications to take children into care - the highest since courts service Cafcass was set up in 2001.
Numbers have been rising since late 2008 and the infamous Baby P case involving the death of a toddler while on the at-risk register in London.

Cafcass boss Anthony Douglas said: "All agencies need to factor in these much larger increases into their planning."
This story is taken from the BBC News website today and refers to a story that I actually predicted about two years ago. If you have known me for a while you are probably worn out from listening to me mithering on about how the care system is flawed and children are the last consideration in the entire process. For those who are late to the party I'll give you a brief catch up.
When Hubbie and I discussed our family plans we agreed that we would like to have a family that included adopted children. Our attempts to have a baby stalled so we decided to take the adoption route sooner than we'd expected. I had fond recollections of the work of Dr Barnardo being a good thing for poor children so we went to them for our assessment having been told by local authorities that they wouldn't have suitable children for us. Croydon even invited us with about ten other couples to an information morning where eventually they told us that if we lived in the borough we wouldn't be considered suitable. Having written to us all at our Croydon home addresses you'd think they could have saved themselves the biscuits and tea wouldn't you ? 
We underwent the long process of being assessed as suitable adopters including long personal interviews and producing family trees and analysing the effects of our own childhoods on our expectations of parenting. Eventually we were approved by a panel of 13 strangers as suitable and we thought it was going to be a simple case of being matched with children who would be our family. Instead we looked at the profiles of children who were waiting to be adopted and made enquiries whenever we saw any that were asian and white (as we'd been advised to). Also, we were invited to show interest in children who were suggested to us including a family of three siblings, 4 children of a family of 8 and a range of other children from all over the country. 

Our profile had a lovely photo of us and made the case for us to be considered by the local authorities with children in their care. Months passed and we were turned down for a range of reasons including: my faith, Hubbie's lack of faith, my not being the correct faith, we have a cat, etc. and in some cases we weren't even given a reason. 

After a year of looking at the same few asian/white children and being turned down for all of them we were invited to take part in a course which would help us to understand the process and make sense of the long wait. It was run by a man called Ivan who began by saying that if we were willing to wait in a matter of months the care system would be overwhelmed with children being taken from families as a knee-jerk response to the Baby P case (knee-jerk being my words not his). At the time it seemed so obvious and so stupid that I didn't want to believe it could be true. I already knew that social workers were running scared of making a bad decision so they weren't making any decisions and were leaving children in temporary family arrangements for longer and longer.

Our own experience of trying to adopt children was really disheartening. When friends went through the same assessment process and actually managed to successfully adopt their wonderful son it was such a breath of fresh air to see that it can work. 

I have only praise for a Government trying to improve the lives of cared for children as they truly are the forgotten ones in all this. While there is so much rhetoric about doing the best for looked after children they are left in wrecked families while social services give repeated chances to parents who cannot cope or have an over inflated sense of their own competence. Sadly so many children in care keep hoping to return to their own family, however broken it might have been, just so long as they have some permanence and stability in their lives and a bedroom of their own. 

Ultimately children want to be safe and happy. This can be in a family with two parents, one parent, people of the same sex, people of different races or religions, with or without pets, a house with or without a garden and many other features. 

Until all the agencies concerned understand that children are the most important consideration we will keep seeing disappointing headlines. While we're distracted by discussions about middle class white families being denied the opportunity to adopt black children the record numbers being taken into care wait and wait. The one thing missing in all this is the voice of the children themselves. 

How about this radical idea - why not listen to the children ? 

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