I would love to have contributed more, but Twitter is annoyingly restrictive for a person of my natural verbosity, so here are a few of my thoughts on the subject in gloriously unrestricted blog form!
For me, the first thing to say is that long-term fostering and adoption are not necessarily in competition with each other as potential outcomes for children. There are looked-after children for whom long-term fostering is honestly the best option - I'll say more about this later - and others for whom adoption is the preferable route. Comparing which of the two is better in abstract terms, therefore, is futile. It is only in the context of an individual child's best interests that a comparison becomes worthwhile.
However, in response to the question as to whether there is any real-terms difference between the two, I'd have to say that I believe there is a huge difference. And it is not only an issue of perception.
- The issue of names - a fostered child should not call their carers Mummy or Daddy, and they do not take their family name. This is something that will probably be remarked on and require explanation throughout childhood and is all the more noticeable if there are birth children in the house. A lot is said to adopters about names and identity - this applies to fostered children as well as adopted.
- The issue of parental responsibility - always shared with social services meaning that social workers and other professionals remain a constant and potentially unsettling presence, and restrictions around babysitters, holidays, passport applications and other everyday parental decisions still apply, continually emphasising the 'otherness' of the fostered child
- The issue of record keeping - those daily logs *shudder*
- The issue of permanence - while opinion is divided as to whether long-term foster placements have higher disruption rates than adoption placements (raw data indicates that disruption rates are higher, but some studies suggest that when other skewing factors, such as age at placement, are taken into account, this difference is much less significant), there seems to be some evidence that feelings of insecurity and anxiety can be generated among children who perceive their position to be uncertain. Foster care placements are more likely to be subject to future legal proceedings and placements can be terminated by carers, the LA, birth parents (via a court order) or even the children. This status is only highlighted by the social work visits, LAC reviews and report writing that all continue throughout.
- The issue of belonging - children in long term foster care are, in some senses, straddling two families, yet fully 'belonging' to neither. This perception is perhaps heightened when there are other birth (or adopted) children in the foster family.
- The issue of adulthood - in the past, fostering placements have ended when the period of being 'in care' has ended, at 16. Thankfully, this is now changing and moves are afoot to allow young people to remain in foster care placements until 21. But still, eventually, the placement must end and, while it would be ideal if foster carers were able to offer continued support into adulthood (and many do to a certain extent), in reality, many face the necessity of taking a new placement once the old one has ended. Lifelong support of the kind an adoptive parent might provide for a child is harder for a foster carer to provide, even if the will is there. In very practical terms, the bedroom has a new occupant and the foster carer has another vulnerable child or children to care for.
Having said all of this, there are circumstances where, despite the frustrations and limitations, long-term fostering might well be the best option for a child. There's no reason why a foster care placement should be less full of love than an adoptive placement, or offer significantly less of a family life. My fostered children are integrated into every aspect of our family life (social services permitting!) including holidays, special events, church, activities and friendships.
These are 'on-balance' decisions. While there can be problems in long-term fostering, it may well be that for a particular individual, the option of adoption may be much more problematic.
- Some children don't want to be adopted - children must be consulted and their views listened to wherever possible, especially as they play an important part in ensuring the success of an adoptive placement
- Some children have already been moved around too much - a large number of placements can impact on the success of future placements, so if a child has a good attachment to their current carers and there is the possibility of this becoming a long-term placement, then this can be a better option than yet another move for the child
- Some children maintain high levels of birth family contact - a foster care placement can be more appropriate in this context
- Some children need to stay with their siblings - the benefits of keeping siblings together are increasingly being recognised and may outweigh the benefits of securing an adoptive placement at the cost of separating siblings
For myself? Well, the children I care for are all very young and so, usually, adoption is seen as the preferred option for them anyway. I'm glad I adopted OB, and I'm glad that, when given the option, I didn't keep NB under a Special Guardianship arrangement but let him go to be adopted by K as I genuinely believed, and still do, that this was the right option for him.
I wouldn't rule out long-term fostering in the future, but I would have to be certain that it was in the best interests of the child. I would also have to weigh very carefully the implications of raising two children, one of whom calls me Mummy, and one who doesn't. In my heart I know that, unless there are pressing reasons not to, I'd prefer to adopt a child that I intended to raise as part of my family.