Well done to Channel 4 for producing a moving and compelling documentary about children in foster care and the need for adoptors.
6000 children in England are waiting in foster care for a forever family – an adoptive family so this is an important and urgent issue.
“I wouldn’t chose to buy a sofa online from DFS without going to sit on it first”
Project Co-ordinator Bridget Betts
It was unfortunate that this was the metaphor that was used to rationalise the Adoption Activity Day, because it seemed to encourage the consumer model of selection even when it comes down to choosing children. This is already often the case – adopters are encouraged to pick a child that suits them rather than considering whether they are the kind of family that these so-called “hard to place” children need. Indeed this wasn’’t the only time such a metaphor was used:
“To put it crudely it’s a buyers market”
Project Co-rdinator Bridget Betts
Sadly as we live in a consumer society it is not surprising that we see this affecting the way adoption is approached. There is often almost a shopping list approach where adopters come with pre-discussed ideas as to the gender, age, looks, or needs of any child they would consider.
I can relate to the foster carer Katy (who came across as a brilliant carer who obviously loved the children in her care and would fight for their needs) who said she felt like she was “trying to sell an unwanted product”. In her case she had two brothers who at age 4 and 6, were outside the criteria of many potential adopters.
Sibling separation (one of the proposed paths forward for Katy’s foster sons as it enhanced the possibilities of the younger child finding a home) is a painful reality for many children. Perhaps younger children are chosen because they are perceived to come with less baggage or needs, or because they are ‘cuter’, or because agencies are actively recruiting adopters who want to ‘start’ a family. Whatever the reason it is hard to extract this consumer approach out of the equation.
In fact, adoption activity days have the potential to turn this consumerism on its head. Meeting and interacting with individual children and sibling groups can and often does have the effect of putting the paper profiles into perspective. The normal process for being matched with a child sometimes involves adopters making a decision based on a photograph and a couple of paragraphs describing the child’s background and needs. It is hard not to focus on the “problems” presented with each child. Once adopters encounter a child’s personality however, it reduces the importance of whether a child has a heart defect or possible learning difficulties. So an adoption activity day increases the opportunity for a child to be connected with as a person rather than as a set of facts or figures on a page.
The downside of course is that some children will be looked over even at one of these activity days. The programme presented a child that had been to three activity days and not been chosen. I am nervous that there could be on going rejection issues if these children ever discover or work out that they had not been chosen.
The television programme also revealed that these events seem to put pressure on the adoptors too. One couple reported how they felt they were not choosing children but rejecting them.
These are exceptional times and this calls for extraordinary measures. I am fully supportive of BAAF and their desire to find adoptive homes for the children waiting for families. I wish that these kinds of ‘parties’ didn’t need to exist but I can see how they could play a part in finding the families these children need. 42 children adopted out of 250 is an encouraging statistic and means that these parties will now be rolled out around the country in an effort to help the waiting children find families.
The Home for Good campaign is calling the church to take a different approach to fostering and adoption. We want to follow the model God has set for our adoption. God did not look at us with a list of demands or requirements. God was moved by our need and did whatever it took to meet it and adopt us into his family. If we followed his example, we would ask how we could fit around the needs of the children, not whether the children could fit into our families. We would love to see sibling groups kept together, children with additional needs helped to thrive and meet their potential, and we believe that churches could wrap around and offer the support to adopters that would make this possible.
“Finding Mum and Dad” seemed to portray couples coming forward who weren’t able to have birth children. However Home for Good is looking wider. We are calling on all sorts of people to “rule themselves in” for adoption. People with and without birth children, singles, empty-nesters – all sorts of families could find room to welcome some of these children.
The programme also showed predominantly white children and white adopters. I understand in London around 70% of children available for adoption are from black and minority ethnic groups, and many of our churches are multi-cultural and could offer homes to children from all these backgrounds.
The two boys who were the stars of the show did not have a happy ending by the conclusion. They were not picked, although it was decided not to separate them, and to keep looking for that special family. But despite the boys ages and needs and constant rejection, I can’t imagine many viewers who would not have felt that they couldn’t provide a home for these two lovely brothers. For me this was the best part of the programme. It clearly portrayed that we can fall in love with ‘hard-to-place’ children, and many of us can in fact meet their needs with a secure loving home and a spare bedroom.
Come and help us to find homes for lovely children like Connor and Daniel . Get involved as a champion, a supporter or a carer at www.homeforgood.org Sign up for regular emails and together we can make a difference for these children.
You may also like the blog post “Please don’t adopt a Snow Leopard”