Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Syed Jung - Brighton & Hove Muslim Forum (BHMF) (CF 126)

There is no doubt in my mind that this issue is of paramount importance and if we do not now take all the necessary steps to make sure that the foundation, no matter how difficult to lay, must be laid with our best ability. For if we do not, we will be cheating our self, our children and their future and our nation. 

    We must make sure we deliver a platform from which the children feel this is their nation, they have a scene of belonging and a stake in it. No matter what colour, creed or culture, they must feel they have an equal opportunity to achieve their potential.

The recent census figures of 27th March 2011 show Britain is more ethnically diverse compared to the previous decade and we will continue to become more and more ethnically diverse in future decades. This means we must take steps now to safeguard a child's ethnicity and religious persuasion and racial, cultural and linguistic heritage.

    The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has proposed the amendment of section 1 (5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 within a draft ‘Children and Families Bill’ which is currently under the scrutiny of the Bill Committee until 23rd April 2013. Mr. Gove who although adopted, was not trans-racially or trans-religiously raised, calls for the removal of ‘due consideration’ of religion, race, culture and linguistic background, when placing a child for adoption.

What is wrong with what the Government is proposing?                                                                                              

    UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be respected by all governments. It calls for every Government to pay due regard to children’s race, culture, language and religion as part of the basic needs that have to met for children, to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.

What is the Governments reason for proposing change?                                                                                                                      

     The Government’s reason for proposing this Change is that, finding a ‘perfect’ match is causing unnecessary delays in placing children in permanent homes.  There is no evidence to support this claim, which was further confirmed by the recent findings from Ofsted’s thorough research.  They found the current court processes to be the key factor in causing delays to the permanent placement of looked after children and yet, the Government is still unjustifiably pushing ahead with the abolition of the legislation that protects same-ethnicity/religious placements.

Why do you need to know this information?

·        The proposal presumes Trans-racial/ trans-ethnic placements (relating to religion, race, culture or linguistic background) to be Problem-Free and thereby, denies the real impact of discrimination in this society - no matter how loving the family. This is not in line with the UNCRC Article 20: when considering solutions where a child is temporarily or permanently out of its family environment ‘due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background’.

·        It ignores important evidence of failed trans-racial placements and makes no real investment to find out more. The Government has never carried out substantial longitudinal studies concerning the long-term effects on trans-racial adults suffering from mental illness. This is not in line with the UNCRC Article 19: the right of children to be protected from physical and mental violence.

·        The proposal ignores the high number of white children also languishing in the care system not because of their race but because of their age, sibling group size and disability which is exactly the same for the BME children.

·        The proposal ignores the truth that most white prospective adopters want to adopt babies and in the absence of available white babies, they would adopt black babies without any real understanding of the importance of the Child’s background or the long term impact of trans-ethnic placements on the individual in their adult years because they believe that love is enough. The proposed change benefits the prospective adopters rather than focusing on the needs of the children into their adulthood. This is not in line with the UNCRC Article 3: the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration.

·        For the sake of all racially isolated children (which is invariably the outcome of most trans-racial and trans-ethnic placements) who are voiceless, more champions are needed to speak up for them. Adoption is already very tough and layered with many issues. Trans-racial adoption is even harder because:

-  it adds another avoidable layer of irreparable difficulties and identity crisis that plaque the lives of the adoptees in their adult years forcing many into the 

mental health system.

-  It makes that journey back to self-belief, self-worth and self-esteem even longer

-  it makes minority children too visible as being ‘more different’

-  dilutes ones fundamental sense of belonging even further

-  undermines ones sense of identity and purpose

·        Therefore to remove the necessary racial understanding and the skills to cope with, prejudice, discrimination and racism (which can only be learnt from people who have empirical knowledge of it)  is a cruelty and deep pain we should not be allowing in 2013. Article 12: the right of children to express their view and have their views appropriately considered.

·        It happened before (up to late 1980s) and destroyed many lives. Please don’t let this happen again! Article 21: the best interests of the child shall be paramount in the system of adoption 

·        Crucial to the ultimate success adoption or permanent placement of any child, is the recognition that matching a child’s heritage, ethnicity and religion, (language, culture and race) a fundamental right to every human being, is what gives them the sense of belonging and identity they need to enable them to reach their full potential.

 

·        Of great concern in addition to the removal of race are the implications of the removal of religion and faith (within the definition of ethnicity) in adoption.  It basically means that, the Adopter’s religion and faith will be imposed on the child, and their right to their birth family’s religion or faith will be negated.  And the birth family’s expression of religion or faith will be ignored completely because the rights of the Adopters will supersede the rights of the child. This is not in line with the UNCRC Article 20: when considering solutions where a child is temporarily or permanently out of its family environment ‘due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background’.

·        If this Bill is passed, we will see Muslim children being raised by Jewish families, Jewish children raised by families of other religions, Asian Hindu children placed with black Christian families and Black children placed with National Front families (families with fascist ideology) in adoption as was  recently reported in the papers.  This is completely unacceptable and more  needs to be done to STOP the Government’s proposed changes.

·        Once the Government succeed in passing this new law that will fundamentally remove the protection of Children’s rights to their Ethnicity and Religion in the area of Adoption, we know it will not stop there? History tells us that, it will be a slippery road downhill into other departments such as health, Education etc. Where next?

·        Let us join together to stop this Proposal.

Questions and points to consider concerning the Children and families Bill and Trans-racial Adoptions:

1.      Since these reforms are aimed at Minority groups and religions, why has the Government not put it’s energy into reforms that will proactively increase the recruitment drive of people from all Minority ethnic groups, instead of going back to a place that has been tested in the past, failed and resulted in identity crises that ultimately cost the Government more money in therapeutic, Psychiatric care and counselling?

2.      The thorough research carried out by Ofsted, resulted in findings that confirm that there is no evidence to support the Government’s claim that the delays in placing children permanently, is caused by social workers trying to find a ‘perfect’ match that positively reflects and promotes the child’s background and religion. In fact the evidence they found, points to the current court processes as the key factor in causing the delays.  So with such clear evidence to contradict the Government’s claim, why is it still forging ahead with this bill?

3.      Rather than quick fixes, should the Government not be looking at sustainable adoptive placements that do not breakdown? Surely it is the level of stability for Looked-after children that one should be focusing on? These quick fixes have already proven to be a disaster in the past, as many research findings have revealed.

4.      Has the Government had any research done with a range of trans-racially, trans-religious and trans-culturally placed Minority ethnic adults to find out what their experiences were, the outcomes and their honest opinions about this new proposal?

5.      What is the ethnic and religious mix of all the individuals, Advisory groups and organizations that have been consulted in the information gathering that has informed these changes. What efforts did the Government make in getting fair representation of a wide range of Minority Ethnic people and organizations to inform this decision?

6.      Professor Ravinder Barn did some research in the US, which found that although the US legislated for trans-racial and trans-religious adoption, they now find that it has not made any improvement in reducing the disproportionately high number of Minority Ethnic children in care. This was the case in Britain before the 1989 Children’s Act when trans-racial placement was the norm and even then, Black children were still disproportionately represented in care. We must look for more innovative solutions within the Black and Minority Ethnic communities themselves. What measures has the Government taken in encouraging new ideas from the Minority Ethnic and religious communities to encourage them to help find best ways to reduce the high number of BME children in care, in the UK?

7.      Looking after other people’s children permanently is common amongst people of African, Caribbean, Asian descent and is the case also among many other religious groups. The concept of adoption is therefore not alien to them. However, it is mainly the lack of understanding of the legalistic nature of adoption in the UK that often acts as a barrier to many Minority Ethnic families coming forward to adopt. Will the Government therefore, consider incentive schemes to encourage organizations to access those communities and set up special educational programmes to help break down the barriers and encourage more the Minority Ethnic and religious families to come forward?

8.           If the Government removes absolute consideration of race, ethnicity, culture, linguistics and religion in adoption placements, what provision is the Minister going to put in place to protect children against poor trans-racial, trans-religious placements and the known mental health problems that plague many of the lives of those adoptees, as adults?

9.           Does the Government acknowledge that as a multi-cultural society, we still live in a racial, religious and class divided society? And if it does, then does it not consider that the skills required to cope with such difficulties are better developed amongst those growing up with similar challenges? The whole concept of role modelling is predicated upon that. 

10.         Were the Government to make this disastrous mistake by implementing these amendments, what mechanisms would The Government put in place to monitor and measure the success or failure of their decision?

Case Law re: Religion 

This is an important case that is worthy of note:

 Re B (An Adoption Order: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] 3 All ER 333. The E & W Court of Appeal refused to set aside B's adoption granted in 1959, where his birth parents were an English RC mother and an Arab Muslim father, and he had been placed with and adopted by a Jewish couple.  The court held that it had no inherent power to set aside/revoke an adoption order where the procedures had been properly carried out.  It is a long time since I read this but my memory is that the placement of B with Jewish adopters was done with no knowledge of B's full ethnic, religious or cultural background - it was the 1950s.

 The decision in Re B was not about the principle of considering the child's ethnicity and religious persuasion and racial, cultural and linguistic heritage, but was about the public policy view across the UK, that you cannot 'divorce' your adoptive parents (if the adoption is properly carried out in terms of the law and practice at the time) any more than you can divorce your birth parents.  The leading UK case remains the Scottish one of J & J v C's Tutor 1948 SC 636, referred to and followed in Re B. There is no UK statutory provision for revocation of adoption, although other jurisdictions do allow this, such as Australia.

 On the other hand, courts will set aside adoptions, including old ones, if there are clear procedural irregularities and/or mistakes: see Re M (Minors) (Adoption) [1991] FLR 458 and F v M 1999 SLT 571, where late appeals were allowed and orders overturned; and Cameron v Gibson 2006 SC 283, where an adoption granted in the 1951 was reduced (a Scottish remedy) because evidence showed that a consent had been improperly given and the adopted person was actually over the age for adoption when the order was made. 

 If circumstances like those in Re B arose in an adoption granted recently, without proper consideration of the child's ethnicity and religious persuasion and racial, cultural and linguistic heritage, a court might consider setting it aside because the order was not properly made, but it would not revoke it because the adopted person or the adopters wanted a 'divorce'.

April 2013

Prepared 26th April 2013