Rage at the adoption red tape that denies a child a home


Why is so little being done for the 65,000 children languishing in the care system?

One of the lucky ones: generally, is there no latitude for common sense? - Rage at the adoption red tape that denies a child a home
One of the lucky ones: generally, is there no latitude for common sense?  Photo: ALAMY

Friends of mine – a clever, funny, affectionate couple – are going through the Kafkaesque adoption process at the moment, with astonishingly good grace.

They are prepared – in fact, happy – to take a child, or indeed siblings, with learning difficulties, which ought to catapult them to the top of the queue. But no.

She is a therapist with an extensive background in children with special needs. Yet she has been told she must get more experience – with special needs children. He is on his second marriage and already has two children, whom he sees weekly – but he has been told he needs more experience with kids.

You couldn’t make it up. Which is partly why I was horrified, but not surprised, at new figures showing that seven out of eight would-be adoptive parents drop out of the application process, because they are either too daunted or turned down flat.

I can empathise with their heartbreaking disappointment. My husband and I were rejected for adoption in our own borough six years ago because we were “the wrong colour”.

Then, when we tried elsewhere, we were turned down because – well, to be honest, I have no idea. Because I was nervous and talked too much? Because we have a dog or too many books or any of the other fatuous reasons I thought were the stuff of urban myth but, on reflection, probably aren’t?

We already had a daughter who was healthy, happy and longing for a sibling, but after a series of miscarriages, hope had receded. We felt – damn it, we knew – we could provide a loving, stable, supportive home for a child in desperate need of one. But we never made it past the first interview.

Was I supposed to appeal against the decision? Write letters? Turn up at their office and plead? I have since discovered that, unofficially, tenacity is seen as a sign of commitment. Then again, too much tenacity and you will be written off as “controlling”.

The Government has pledged to reform the adoption process, but it’s no easy task: the number of children placed with new families was 20,000 a year in the 1970s. Last year, it had dwindled to 3,048.

I don’t want to tar all social workers with the same brush, but a friend who worked in the sector for two decades confirms that there is an institutionalised aversion to risk; initiative is frowned upon and inaction the fallback position.

That’s why Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter were left in harm’s way. I can’t think of any instance in which an adoptive couple carried out a similar crime.

There are currently 65,000 children languishing in the care system. When they emerge, it will be with shockingly low employment and life prospects. I do understand that placing children is a serious undertaking and that people wishing to adopt must be strictly vetted. But surely there is some latitude for common sense?

Yes, there is a possibility that someone who has willingly entered the (highly stressful, highly intrusive) application process might harm a child. But isn’t that far outweighed by the fact that children in the care system are virtually guaranteed terrible emotional damage?

And the longer they stay in a system where they are shunted from one setting to another, the harder it will be to place them.

Children unaccustomed to normality, affection and the banal rules of family life can find it hard to settle. Yet just 115 adoption placements went wrong last year. While that’s a tragedy for those involved, the crazy, entirely counter-intuitive response by social workers seems to be to vet would-be parents more slowly rather than to take kids out of care more quickly.

My husband and I went on to have another baby after two years, and so I am lucky to feel blessed rather than bitter. But I do feel very angry on behalf of others; children and parents, whose hopes of a future have been strangled in red tape. I’m sure most social workers go about their jobs with good intentions, but to quote an old saw, the road to hell is paved with those.


Is it just me, or does anyone else think the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh really suited that motor home they were spotted pootling about in around Bristol?

I can visualise the Duke at the wheel, shaking his fist at foreigners while he floors it on the autobahn and corners the hairpin bends of the Corniche like Jeremy Clarkson. I can see Her Majesty pottering around the dinette, polishing her Tupperware to a shine on the dresser and marvelling at the compact loo.

Cosier than Sandringham, easier to heat than Balmoral, all the mighty six-berth Approach needs is a dozen corgis and a Vermeer.

I understand there comes a time in every couple’s marriage when there’s no greater pleasure to be had than picnicking in a lay-by. But I do hope they resist the siren call of the open road, because we’d really miss them.


A new survey claims that men don’t believe there’s such a thing as the perfect woman. Apart from Cheryl Cole, of course, who has been effortlessly upstaging her bandmates all week, with her unconscionably big hair and chocolatey eyes.

But my husband, I can say with complete confidence, wouldn’t so much as buy the lass half a pint of Newky Brown because, in his eyes, I am The Perfect Woman.

In fact, every single one of his friends agree. Why? Because by the time you read this, I will be in Germany, giving him the ultimate birthday present.

No, not that. That’s supposed to be what stag nights are for.

I am, in fact, taking him on the trip of a lifetime. Something (apparently) even better than a tour of duty in Vegas with Prince Harry and a side order of Girls Aloud.

I have arranged for my spouse to visit – wait for it, wait for it – the Deutsches Panzermuseum (that’s tanks, dummy) in Lower Saxony. Ja, das ist just the way we roll.

I’ve done my research, finally putting my Masters in German to practical use; there will be Jagdpanzers and Königstigers, an A7V replica and a T-72, whatever that is. And, above all, lots and lots of welding.

Men of a certain age pore over welding the way women of a certain age pore over the Lakeland catalogue, so I may well slope off for a lovely nap in the car while basking in his eternal love.

Shelve the leather dresses, Cheryl, Vorsprung Durch Technik is the surest way to a keep a man riveted.


Another week, another slew of shocking NHS revelations; fatal symptoms ignored, misdiagnoses that ended in deaths, old people mistreated and overlooked.

It’s hard to feel safe in the hands of the medical profession. Nevertheless, I went to the GP on Thursday about my painful feet.

The doctor, who was new to the surgery, asked about my symptoms and so I explained that walking was excruciating, driving sometimes impossible and that even expensive bespoke orthotics from a private clinic had failed to provide relief.

He shrugged, which wasn’t quite the reaction I’d expected. Then he bullishly asked me what I expected him to do about it.

Nonplussed, I said a referral might be a good place to start. He agreed, then suggested I see – a podiatrist? An orthopaedic surgeon? No, a faith healer. Really. He even wrote out the number for me.

Given the level of trust in the National Health Service at present, maybe blind faith is the only option left. I’ll let you know how I get on.


I signed up to a new electricity and gas supplier while doing the weekly shop. I’d never got round to it before and it wasn’t uppermost in my mind as I scanned the baked goods, but it was quick, easy and the man from Sainsbury’s Energy assured me it would save me money.

Now my old supplier is on the phone, pleading, like a spurned lover, begging me to reconsider. Too late.

I have no idea how the company that sells me dog food and Pinot Grigio can also flog me gas.

Nor can I remember exactly how much I will save, but I do feel more empowered – which makes me suspect that, like breakfast cereal and washing powder, own-label electricity is actually made in the same power station as the more expensive branded version. Who knew?




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