Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by The British Association of Social Workers

(CF 113)

 

BASW evidence to the Scrutiny Committee of the Children and Families Bill 2012 -13

1. BASW is the UK professional association for social work, led by and accountable to a growing population of approximately 14,000 social worker members. Our members work in frontline, management, research and academic positions in all social work settings across the UK. BASW members share a collective commitment to those values and principles that will secure the best possible outcomes for children and young people, adults, families and communities.

2. There are several issues presented by this bill that are of concern to social workers in England but we will not be lobbying on all of them at this stage, as we are part of umbrella organisations and groups who are taking these issues forward and so we will be supporting their representations. However, there is one key aspect of the Bill that BASW has consistently spoken out on and would like to bring to the attention of the Scrutiny Committee. Essentially, BASW has grave concerns about the proposal to repeal the requirement to give due consideration to a child’s ethnicity (which includes their religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background) when making decisions about adoption (Part 1, para 2).

3. It is very disappointing that the Government has chosen to ignore the findings contained in the report of its own inspectorate Ofsted (Right on time: exploring delays in adoption’, 2012) as well as the inquiry on adoption legislation conducted by the House of Lords(Adoption: Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Report, HL Paper 94, published 19 December 2012 ) which both could not find strong evidence to support the assertion that social workers hold out for the ‘perfect match’ when it comes to the placement of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children with adoptive families. Conversely, by removing this requirement from the statute book we risk turning the clock back to a bygone era when issues about the ethnicity, race, culture, faith and linguistic background of children placed in care were not always properly regarded by professionals and institutions which ended up being highly damaging to the development of some individuals.

4. BASW is a UK wide organisation and we do not understand why England would beg to differ in its adoption policy and practice on matters pertaining to a child’s identity from the other nations when the issues are universal. Moreover, given the rich and growing diversity that exists in England it beggars belief that we dismiss such issues when considering the needs of children placed for adoption; we do not live in a monolithic society.

5. If this repeal has come about because of ‘alleged poor practice’ then surely it is the ‘alleged poor practice’ that needs to be dealt with i.e. making sure that professionals are clear about the guiding principles they need to work with rather than punishing children in the process by denying them their human rights.

6. Current statutory guidance makes it very clear that ‘The structure of white, black and minority ethnic groups is often complex and their heritage diverse, where the race, religion, language and culture of each community has varying degrees of importance in the daily lives of individuals. It is important that social workers avoid ‘labelling’ a child and ignoring some elements in their background, or placing the child’s ethnicity above all else when looking for an adoptive family for the child.’ (Chapter 4, para 6. P.92 Adoption Statutory Guidance. Adoption and Children Act 2002)

7. It is important to acknowledge that race and religion or belief are two of the ‘protected characteristics’ of the Equality Act 2010 alongside sex and disability and are there for good reason. Unfortunately, we do not yet live in a non racist society and so adopting a ‘colourblind’ approach is a denial of that reality. According to research from countries where such policies have been adopted such as the USA (Barn, Kirton Transracial Adoption in Britain Politics, ideology and reality Adoption & Fostering Volume 36 Number 3 2012) it has done little to advance the cause of greater numbers of minority ethnic children being adopted.

8. We also risk flaunting our international obligations to children given that UNCRC Article 20 (3) requires that due regard is paid to ‘the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background’ when a child is deprived of their family environment.

9. BASW is concerned that in an environment where resources are constantly being squeezed that this repeal could lead to expediency rather than ‘best interest’ decisions being made in relation to children being placed for adoption. A lot of our concerns have been highlighted by a recent APPG inquiry into the State of Social Work in the UK (final report due out this summer). Sadly, we have received numerous examples of a system that is moving further and further away from a child centred focus.

10. Current guidance is very explicit about the need to recruit adopters from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities (of which there is a significant shortage) and how local authorities should go about this task. We are concerned that the proposed repeal will inevitably lead to a disincentive to close this gap given the current rationing of resources. Targeting adopters from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities is not even a feature of the Adoption Action Plan (2011) which is ominous. Yet one of the key messages from a study conducted by the Adoption Research Initiative on behalf of the former DfES was ‘increase the national pool of minority ethnic adopters by encouraging the recruitment of all minority ethnic applicants who have the capacity to meet the needs of children waiting for adoption. If a local match cannot be found for particular applicants, it is possible that they could be successfully matched with a child from another area’. (Pathways to permanence for Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity children 2010)

11. If a child’s ethnicity is no longer given due consideration in placing children for adoption we risk seeing a higher number of disruption rates in placements which is devastating to both children and adopters.

12. It is important to remember that the Children Act 1989 was a seminal piece of legislation for a number of reasons including for the first time giving prominence to a child’s ethnicity i.e. Section 20 of the act stipulates that local authorities must give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when placing children. This has made a tremendous difference to the identity needs of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children in care being recognised. To remove this consideration from one part of the system will create an imbalance with others and could distort practice.

13. Finally, BASW is disturbed by politicians blatantly using adoption policy to make political capital whilst misleading the public by pedalling ‘half truths’ about the current status of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children waiting to be placed for adoption. The data about these children is far more complex than the situation depicted by MPs. For example, not all BAME children are experiencing lower rates of adoption i.e. this is not the case for children of mixed parentage where rates are similar to, or slightly above the rest of the care population. Where adoption rates are low amongst Asian children, on closer examination these are strikingly low amongst those from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds. With regards to Black African/African Caribbean children, the group who are tending to fare the worst are of Black African origin. Some of these children have been found to benefit from other types of permanence such as special guardianship or long term fostering.

14. It is therefore important that data is intelligently interrogated and disaggregated by those with the appropriate expertise in order that we can deploy the right solutions to problems. Not to do so, runs the risk of producing poorly informed and ‘one size fits all’ policy which is not underpinned evidentially.

April 2013

Prepared 26th April 2013