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Brush-off for Adopters
December 6, 2008 permalink
Today's story is an opportunity to explain some of the details of the foster care and adoption business. When children come into the care of the child protection system they are subject to a triage, depending on their desirability.
Most of them go into the pool of permanent foster children, destined to remain in foster care until age of majority, every day racking up more pay for the child protection agency administering their case, billed to the public treasury, and ultimately to the taxpayers.
One kind of child who gets different treatment is the blond-haired blue-eyed girl with the million dollar smile. She goes on the adoption track. Practitioners never admit that these children are being sold, instead pretend that the large amounts of money changing hands are for legal fees. Transactions like this that are sales in substance, but not in law, sometimes get rather sleazy. Since adoption is so opaque and secretive, one way to get some insight into this business is to compare it to others beyond the fringes of the law. After making large payments, adopters may be informed that they have made only the down-payment, and much more money is required, or they may get no child at all after paying large sums. We have on our website the case of Moira Greenslade who when pregnant arranged for adoptions of her baby by three different couples. Being outside the adoption system, she was convicted of a crime for her actions. But collecting legal fees from several different prospective adopters for the same million dollar girl would be entirely within the law. Tricks such as these could raise the fees/revenue for a single child into the hundred thousand dollar range.
The third kind of foster child is the one with intractable problems — severe eating disorders, or the kind of behaviors that cannot be compensated by large special-needs payments, for example a child who starts fires. Foster agencies get rid of these children by offering adoption subsidies to parents. While the attractive kids are in effect sent to the high bidder, the undesirable subsidized kids go to the low bidder. As long as no probelems within the adoptive family come to public attention through the press, the foster agency has rid itself of its most difficult cases, using adopters as a dumping ground. From time to time a scandal develops in which a family of the most modest means has a half-dozen or more adoptive children, all with severe problems. In these cases, once the press has turned the case into an embarrassment for the child protectors, the system turns on them and makes them the scapegoats. The Jackson case in New Jersey and the Gravelle case in Ohio are examples.
Foster agency propaganda contends that permanent foster children exist in large numbers because of a shortage of adopters. Many members of the public respond by offering to adopt the children who are the cash-cows of the business. They get the brush-off, but the agencies do so artfully without revealing their intentions. The article below from England recounts the story of one naive woman who thought she could do a good deed by adopting a child. She got a rejection disguised as incompetence.
'I was told I was too posh to adopt': One woman's battle with the incompetence of social services
By Claudia Connell, Last updated at 2:20 PM on 21st November 2008
Cancelled meetings, lost paperwork, bizarre demands. For two years this writer defied the mind-boggling red tape and incompetence of social services in her fight to adopt a child - only for a social worker to dismiss her as too aspirational...
Be My Parent is the saddest publication you will ever read.
It is the official newspaper of the British Association For Adoption And Fostering, and it's packed with the pictures and stories of children who are desperate to be given a home by parents who will love them - parents who are not, as most of their own were, drug addicts, alcoholics or child-beaters.
All the children that feature in the newspaper are scrubbed, smartly dressed and pictured with their best beaming smiles.
They are also catalogued and numbered - because the reality is that though each of them is a needy child, they are also, to an extent, commodities to be processed through the labyrinthine system of social services care.
But if so many damaged children need a caring home, why is it that so many adults who want to adopt them fail to make it through the tortuous process of applying to be an adoptive parent?
Witness the fact that, this year, just 3,200 of the 80,600 British children in social care will be given a permanent home.
The question seems to me all the more pertinent this week in the light of the Baby P case. Here was a child who desperately needed to be taken from his home and placed with someone who would nurture him.
There are, as I now know, thousands of loving adults desperate to adopt, any of whom could have brought up Baby P to be a happy little boy. His fate throws into stark relief the extraordinary catalogue of incompetence, small-mindedness, prejudice and, yes, stupidity, that I have encountered from social workers in the three years since I began to consider adopting a child of my own.
I have always known that I wanted children and assumed that I would have my own as part of a couple. However, at 38, I had to face the fact that it might not happen. While I could accept that I might never marry, I wasn't so willing to come to terms with never being a mother.
If I had desperately wanted to have a baby, there were routes I could have taken: sperm donation or IVF, for example. But none of these held any appeal, and I quickly realised why.
I didn't actually want a baby, I wanted a child - and I felt certain that I didn't need to give birth to that child to love and nurture it. After six months of analysing and agonising, I made up my mind: I wanted to adopt.
My first step in November 2005 was to register my interest with my local authority in London. After completing the first of many inch-thick bundles of forms, I was told that a social worker would call on me to check my living arrangements and assess my suitability.
Normally I'm confident and self-assured, but the day of the social worker's visit I was in a complete tizz. Should I wear make-up? If I did, would she think I was too vain to look after a child? If I didn't, would she think I was the sort of slob who would send my child to school unwashed?
And then there was my pristine and minimalist flat. Should I mess it up in order to prove I wouldn't be too bothered about a child causing chaos?
I confess I was expecting someone in a kaftan, with a hairy upper lip, but when Janice knocked on the door, I relaxed.
She was a smart, warm, enthusiastic bundle of fun. She roared with laughter when I confessed to all my earlier flapping, and said she thought my flat had a wonderful, tranquil feel that would benefit a lot of troubled children.
We clicked enough for her to tell me, off the record, that she would be recommending me. She thought I was clever, funny, adaptable and would be a great mother and role model. The fact I worked from home as a writer, and was prepared to adopt an older child, meant I could sail through the process in a fairly swift six months.
It seems most people who apply to adopt are only free to meet social workers at weekends, which can delay their application. And the majority are looking for babies and toddlers, while I was happy to consider a child of primary school age.
As Janice left, I knew I had made the right decision. I felt genuine excitement to think that by the same time the following year, I could have a child.
A series of blows
However, the first of many blows was to come just a week later, when Janice phoned to say she was being transferred to another department and a second social worker would be appointed to me after I had completed a workshop course.
The workshop - a series of classes over consecutive weekends - is designed to tell you more about the process and legalities of adoption. In January 2006, I arrived for my first session.
Eighteen of us (seven couples and four single women) stood shivering on the doorstep waiting for our adoption team to turn up. Surely we could not all have got the wrong date?
We breathed a frozen sigh of relief when they arrived half an hour late. But our relief was to be short-lived: none of them had thought to bring a key to the building, and we were all sent home.
A week later, we reconvened and spent the first full day of our course doing bonding exercises devised by the earnest and rather humourless adoption team. For instance, we'd each have to talk for three minutes without saying 'Yes' or 'No' or the word 'me'.
Like naughty school children, we'd all giggle and pull faces when our supervisors weren't looking. I was glad everyone else found it as daft as I did.
On another workshop we were given fictional but typical case studies of children. We had to discuss them and say what we would expect the social worker's course of action to be.
One case was that of a five-year-old girl in the care of her grandmother. Her teachers had contacted social services because they were concerned that the child was missing school. They had also noticed the grandmother would often be intoxicated.
To add to that, neighbours had been in touch to express concern that the child was sometimes left alone and appeared to be malnourished. Without exception, we all said we would expect the vulnerable child to be removed from her grandmother's care and taken to a place of safety.
But, no, as it turns out, the social work team recommended that the little girl be put on the at-risk register while they worked with the family to keep them together and improve their 'support network'.
Social workers, I came to realise, are hellbent on trying to keep children with their families - even if those people are woefully incapable of looking after them. The nation knows the story of Baby P and what can happen when this strategy goes catastrophically wrong.
Young and inexperienced
The other people on my workshop were charming, and their presence more than made up for the rather questionable methods of the adoption team.
Out of the seven couples, all of them white, five had tried unsuccessfully to have their own family, one had their own older children, and the other couple, like me, simply had chosen adoption ahead of having a birth family.
The three other single women included a white divorced barrister, an Asian cardiac nurse and a single mother who was applying to adopt the little girl she had fostered since birth.
At the end of the workshop, those still wanting to go ahead would begin a period of home study, which can take anything from six months to a year. I was told that a new social worker had been allocated to me and that she would be in touch in the next week.
Three weeks went by and I heard nothing. I left messages on voicemails but none was ever returned. Eventually, I received a letter with the name of my new social worker and a contact phone number - but when I called it, there was a recorded message saying she no longer worked for the local authority.
It was getting on for two months since my approval and I hadn't made any headway. The others on my workshop were finding the same thing: none of us had made any progress.
Finally, a month later, I heard from Diane, who was to become my third social worker in as many months. She arranged to visit me so we could begin the laborious task of the home study. Three times running she simply didn't turn up. When I called to ask about the missed appointment, she would always insist it was my mistake.
When we did finally meet, I was taken aback by how young and inexperienced she seemed. She wouldn't reveal her age, but I would put her in her early 20s. I found her habit of referring to a manual every time I asked a question very unnerving.
Two of the other couples had already put in applications to change their social workers because they were so unimpressed with theirs. But as I was eager to move forward and had already lost three valuable months, I decided to bite my lip about Diane.
The best way to explain the home study paperwork is to think of every form you have ever filled in during your lifetime and then multiply that by 100. That will give you some idea of what's involved.
I fully expected to have to reveal details of my finances, health and family tree, and to be subject to scrupulous criminal record and credit checks. I happily provided bank statements, mortgage statements, pension records and copies of my passport, birth and exam certificates. I wasn't so happy when, time and time again, these were mislaid from my file.
The worst example of this came with my medical examination report - something my GP kindly agreed to do in her own time and for no charge.
By then I had learned my lesson and photocopied everything; which was just as well, as Diane lost my medical report a staggering eight times. Even when I sent it recorded delivery and could name the signatory who had received it, the adoption department would still deny ever having seen it.
Eventually, in sheer frustration, I drove to the offices and hand-delivered it, insisting that the front desk signed and dated a receipt that I had typed up.
Anyone applying to adopt must offer up three referees who are prepared to vouch for you and be interviewed in their home. My sister and two married couples with children all kindly agreed to do this for me.
One of the couples had two children under five. Very generously, they arranged for childcare and the husband to take a day's leave from his banking job so they could be interviewed by Diane - who failed to turn up. We rescheduled, but yet again she did not keep the appointment, without ringing to cancel or explain.
When I told her that I didn't think I could ask my friends to use another day's holiday and arrange babysitting all over again, she replied: 'Well, they don't sound very supportive. Perhaps you should find someone else.'
While Diane seemed unbelievably cavalier about something as important as a medical record or a referee, she was obsessed with trivial things that I did not see as relevant to my application.
My car became a huge bugbear. It had a valid MoT, tax disc and full insurance, but I had one year's service history missing. It was a five-year-old VW Golf in perfect condition with low mileage, but Diane was insistent that I had to have the full service history or my application couldn't proceed.
Presumably she was worried I might be driving a child around in a death trap - which it patently wasn't. Again, out of sheer frustration, I offered to sell the car and buy a brand new one.
She constantly questioned my support network - the people you can call on at short notice to help you out. I had given her at list of four names, but this wasn't good enough. It seemed unrealistic to expect me to have a dozen people prepared to drop everything and rush to my aid. How many natural mothers have that?
As well as all the form filling, the home study involved writing essays about things such as your childhood, religious beliefs and views on discipline. I enjoyed writing these, but had a sneaky suspicion that Diane was not reading them. Whenever I asked her if my essay had been OK, she'd just reply 'Yeah, yeah, it's fine' but never commented on the content.
One day, Diane asked me if I would consider adopting a child who was the product of rape, and whether I would tell that child how they were conceived.
I said that I would adopt such a child, but probably not tell them about the rape.
This descended into a heated debate, with me insisting that I could not see how telling an already vulnerable child about their horrific start to life could possibly benefit them in any way. Diane disagreed and said she was concerned about my readiness to lie to a child.
So it was that Diane twisted each sensible view into a potential flaw.
From that point onwards, our relationship became strained. She started to make chippy comments about my lifestyle, saying such things as 'How the other half live, eh?' when I told her I was going to New York for the weekend.
She began to say that she thought I was an over-achiever who might put unrealistic pressures on a child. I found myself in the most perverse interview situation ever, having to constantly reassure her that I could be as lacking in ambition and bone idle as the next person.
By then I was starting to experience huge doubts. I subscribed to the newspaper Be My Parent and what worried me most - and the other potential adopters - was how much emphasis was placed on maintaining contact with the birth family.
A little boy called Bobby had caught my eye. He was seven years old and had appeared in three consecutive issues of Be My Parent. His mother was an alcoholic and his father a drug addict, yet the directive from social workers was that he saw them twice a year.
Surely the whole point of adopting a child like this was to give them a new, trouble-free existence? I wanted to be a mother, not a childminder - and I did not want to have drunks and junkies in my life. My intention was to bring calm, care and consistency to a child; not create havoc and mayhem for myself.
In the meantime, the rest of my workshop team of potential adopters had stayed in touch. Like me, all were on their second or third social workers. I'd become friendly with Sarah and Doug, an accountant and senior police officer.
Sarah had phoned me in tears after the first visit from her social worker, who had reprimanded her for saying she did not want a disabled child, and had mocked the fact that she employed a cleaner.
Despite these difficulties, I was eventually ready for the adoption panel - the last stage, where final approval is given. Once they give the go-ahead, you can start being matched with children.
My first panel date was July 2006, but it was cancelled due to staff holidays. Then I was scheduled for August - also cancelled because Diane was on holiday. When she returned, she told me that she was leaving the department and another social worker was taking over her case work.
In November 2006, I was ready to go before the panel. But two days before, my new social worker contacted me to say that it would have to be delayed because Diane had forgotten to do any criminal record checks on my family.
In January 2007, I phoned my new social worker and said I no longer wished to proceed. I was devastated, but after months of hopeless incompetence and social prejudice, I had no confidence in the system and couldn't envisage ever adopting a child on my terms.
As for the others who attended my workshop, three of the couples also dropped out in sheer frustration, as did one of the single women.
To date, only the lady who was already a foster mother has successfully adopted. So no, I don't find it at all surprising that adoption is at a ten-year low, and that fewer than 5 per cent of children in care will be found a permanent home this year. It's scandalous, and saddening, in equal measure.
But what is so galling is that it doesn't have to be this way. Potential adopters are out there in their thousands - but they are being denied the chance to help children by clueless social workers who focus on trivial red-tape issues rather than the needy children they are meant to be saving. Children like Baby P, who could be in a loving home now and looking forward to his third birthday.
Just as I feel I was let down by the system, and will perhaps now never be able to call myself a mother, so there are tens of thousands of children who will be left to wait and hope for adoptive parents who may never come. And that's the real scandal.
Source: Daily Mail (UK)