Reflections on Adoption


I’ve been recently thinking about how lucky I am to have been able to adopt my incredible daughter, and how this would not have been possible until fairly recently. A few things have come up recently that got me reflecting on this, which I’ll go into later on, but first I thought a little brief history of Adoption policy in the UK might be helpful.

There is a great page that gives a potted history of Adoption policies in the UK which I have copied some bits from below:

  • Adoption was first introduced into the UK under the terms of the Adoption of Children Act 1926.
  • In the early days of adoption, the focus was on providing relief for unmarried mothers and to satisfy the needs of those couples unable to conceive themselves. Since this time however, the focus of the law has shifted to the interests and welfare of the adopted child.
  • The Adoption Act 1976 is the main piece of legislation regulating the adoption process in the UK.
  • The government carried out a review of adoption policy and process in 2000 and detailed the findings in a white paper entitled Adoption: A New Approach. The paper advocated reforming the existing system with a raft of new measures to make the adoption procedure more transparent and to harmonise the adoption legislation with the Children Act 1989.
  • There are a number of other pieces of legislation and government guidelines that also apply to the adoption procedure. Given the nature of adoption, human rights legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998 (which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights 1950) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 are important to any adoption proceedings.
  • The provisions of the Hague Convention on protection of children and cooperation in respect of intercountry adoption 1993 applies in intercountry adoption applications.
  • The way that local authority social services departments handle inter-racial adoptions has also been controversial. Some people have alleged that young people have had to remain in care because ‘political correctness’ has prevented children from minority ethnic backgrounds being adopted by white families.
  • Provisions in the 2006 Equality Act banned discrimination in the provision of services on the basis of sexual orientation, and this quickly became a problem for the Catholic adoption agencies who handle a substantial proportion of the adoptions carried out in the UK.
  • Following intense public debate and what many opponents described as a rushed passage through parliament, regulations prohibiting discrimination were passed in the Commons with a majority of 210.
  • This meant Catholic adoption agencies had to allow homosexual couples to adopt children in their care, although many agencies claimed they would shut down before they submitted to the legislation. They were given a 21 month transition period from April 2007 to implement the changes.
  • In 2011, the Coalition government announced its intention to overhaul the care and adoption system and published performance tables for children in care for the first time; the tables showed a “huge variation ” in how well local authorities were looking after children in their care.
  • There was particular concern about the slowness of the adoption process, which was taking on average two years and seven months to complete an adoption, and the fall in the number of adoptions – down eight per cent from 2007.   In addition, the number of children not in education, employment or training when they left care was found to be 33 per cent compared to a national average of 18 per cent.
  • The Government published a new Adopters’ Charter in October 2011, setting out clear guidance for both adoption agencies and prospective adopters and called for “radical reform” of the family justice system, which was taking 13 months on average to process a child’s case through the family courts.

So why has this come up?

Well, recently a gay friend of mine has embarked on an adoption process with her partner, which would have been almost impossible just 15 years ago. Shocking to think about these huge changes that were made so recently to ban discrimination and ensure that gay couples were able to adopt and had the same chances as anyone else.

Secondly, I know two men who have adopted as single parents. While there are many, many single women like myself who have adopted, there are very few men in the same position. This is partly due to the same level of discrimination that gay couples have experienced, and some of those men are both single and gay, which is even harder. In addition, from talking to these men, there is a very real, very unfounded suspicion of single men who want to be parents. For some reason, it is simply assumed that a man on his own must have nefarious reasons for wanting to share his life with a child, while women are assumed to want to be maternal and therefore it is accepted that women who are single might still want to be parents. Sadly this discrimination and mistrust of men, along with the very firm, traditional gender lines that seem to surround adoption, haven’t really changed much and a lot of it is intangible and hard to overcome. Something that definitely still needs work.

Thirdly, I know a woman in my network who has been desperately trying to adopt for years, but is unable to do so because she is Italian, and the Italian government does not allow single women to adopt. She has tried already in several other countries countries only to be told that the Italian Government won’t recognise her adoption as legal. I feel so awful for this poor woman that her nationality is preventing her from giving a loving home to a needy child. It’s madness. And I thought our government was bonkers.

When I was in Nepal working at an orphanage back in 2007, I discovered that under Nepali law, you can only adopt as a single woman if you are over 35 and are infertile / cannot physically have your own children. I didn’t think to ask at the time about men, but would assume men might not be as able to adopt as women… This also precludes the option of adoption by choice (for example I am a woman over 35 but as far as I know I am not infertile – at least I don’t think I am, I’ve obviously never tried to find out!).

Finally, I have another friend who is currently trying to adopt in an Arabic country.  There the rules are complex, and I’m not sure I fully understand them. I think there is some sort of rule that if the baby is young enough to be breastfed, and you breastfeed them, then they become “biologically” yours and you can formally or legally adopt. But for older children you can only long term foster them and cannot legally ever adopt them, because you have not breastfed them, so they are never truly yours (or something equally ridiculous – I mean what about all the arabic and muslim women who bottle-feed their birth children?)

I think there is also a legal murky area there as a lot of children are given up for adoption when the mother is in prison or if the father refuses to acknowledge or recognise the child, but then later on if the woman is released from prison or remarries someone else, she has rights and can lay claim to the child, especially if you have to long-term foster and cannot legally adopt them etc. And my friend also told me that they can only adopt a girl but I have no idea why….

So many people who have love to give and want to make a home for a child in need being blocked by bureaucracy or outdated policies. It makes me so angry on behalf of children everywhere, and it also makes me so grateful I wasn’t born in another era, or another country, where this would have been impossible. I feel for those men and women out there who are trying to overcome obscure and arbitrary rules, or face huge discrimination because they are single and male, or gay, or Italian. It’s just bonkers.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, as I snuggle up to my gorgeous bundle of squishy deliciousness. She is smiley and happy and giggly and only occasionally a monster, and I literally cannot believe my luck every single day that out of all the people out there, I got to be her mama. 

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