Martin Narey is controversial . . . for a change!

When Martin Narey, the Government's Adoption Advisor, wrote in the Guardian recently that there should no longer be a presumption that siblings be adopted together, there was a predictable furore of negative comments.

The article, which also questioned the amount of contact that children who are to be adopted have with their birth families, ignited debate amongst those who work with looked-after children, including foster carers, those who have adopted, those who have been through the system, and of course, those who have no personal experience or knowledge but plenty of strong, mostly unfounded opinions.

"Martin Narey should never be in a position he can effect [sic] the outcomes of children in care due to his lack of humanity and non existent empathy towards those in care," said one commenter.

I blogged recently on David Cameron's announcement about babies being placed with potential adopters rather than foster carers which I am sure was prompted by Narey.  I was underwhelmed with that suggestion, but I have more sympathy with this one.

Narey is not saying that children should not be adopted as sibling groups.  He is saying that the policy of presuming that this should always be the case needs to be changed and, instead, each case taken on its own merit.  I would have thought that taking each child's case on its own merit would have been the least that these children deserve from us in all circumstances. 

In some circumstances it really is in the children's best interests to separate siblings when they come into care.  The BBC report on Narey's comments lists a few of the reasons. But, and this is what people don't want to hear, the nasty truth is that there just aren't that many people out there who are willing to adopt sibling groups - separating them would almost certainly get quicker adoptions.  

And before you rush to judgement like so many of the Guardian's commenters who were prepared to villify these apparently selfish adopters, just try to imagine taking three or four strange children into your previously childless life - children who may come with a plethora of emotional, behavioural and learning needs.  In some cases, there are sibling groups of five, six or more children.  Is it really reasonable to expect anybody to adopt all of these together? Is it really better for these children to grow up in care, probably separated anyway, than to find a place in a forever family?

Objectors usually cite cases from the bad old days when people were adopted in secret and often didn't even know that they had siblings until they traced their families as adults.  And yes, the trauma these adoptees experienced musn't be ignored.  But adoption today is open, with regular letterbox contact with birth families and, usually, direct face-to-face contact with siblings.  Sibling groups adopted separately may not grow up together, but they will at least know and spend time with each other, while at the same time, enjoying the security of a permanent adoptive family.

If everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon of speedier adoptions, then we are going to have to swallow the bitter pill that there are sometimes good reasons why children are waiting to be adopted, and the struggle to find adopters prepared to take on sibling groups is one of these reasons.

To be honest, the idea that we split children from their siblings in order to make them easier to adopt doesn't sit well with me at all, unless there are specific problems that mean it is in the children's best interests, but we can't clamour for increased speed without being prepared to sacrifice some of our long-held principles.

Back in May, I blogged about my concerns over the new adoption targets, worried that we would be sacrificing quality of process for speed:

"Maybe at this point it's too simplistic to say that in the frantic push for speed and action, little thought is being given to maintaining and improving the quality of placements.  Virtually nothing is being said about a programme or plan to increase the number of adopters who are prepared to take on older children, disabled children or sibling groups, and these are the ones who are languishing in the system for years."

As I said, I don't like the idea of splitting siblings to make them easier to adopt, but if we're going to push for speed without dealing with any of the underlying reasons for the lack of it, then I think we're going to hear more and more of this sort of thing.



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