We are hearing a lot this week about the virtues of the free press, but some journalists never seem to tire of advocating social engineering and labelling children as either demons or angels (rather than individual human beings). This blog post is about four recent news stories on adoption.

First, Carol Sarler wrote a sensational piece in the Daily Mail headlined:

‘They open their homes to adopt – then find they’ve taken on youngsters who wreck their family. Why do we continue to BETRAY loving parents?

A teen mum in the UK nowadays tends either to opt for abortion, or keeps child

Adopted children have been taken from birth parents not fit to care for them 

Result is a scandal, blighting the lives of thousands of well-meaning families.’

There were responses from a range of professionals and adopters to the way this denigrated children and their origins, as are well summarised and commented on here by Caoilfhionn Gallagher. But why was this even ‘news’? Two years ago, the University of Bristol published extensive research into adoption disruption and the incidence of child to parent violence. This is why the English government is investing heavily in the adoption support fund. The work of groups such as the Potato group and the Weekly Adoption Shout-out are well known, and the challenges faced by carers of traumatised children should not be glossed over. But no-one is helped by adoption being portrayed as an unremitting horror story.

As only about 5,000 children are adopted in a year, and adopters are informed about the child’s background, it seems unlikely that ‘thousands’ of adoptive families are ‘blighted’ by children’s behaviour. Recent research with new adoptive families into the factors that contribute to successful placements found that, despite all families having some support needs, most adoptive parents were very positive about their children.

Second, Clemmie Moody wrote in a story about novelist Jilly Cooper (who adopted two children in the 1970s) on 30 December 2016:

‘it is now almost impossible to adopt a ‘white, newborn baby’. Under reforms made to the 1989 Children Act, it can now take anywhere between six months and two-and-a-half years to adopt.’


While the process of adoption was much speedier, with minimal red tape, in the 1960s and 70s, today there are many stages, and reams of paperwork, prospective parents must complete. Local councils and other agency adoption panels are heavily involved in the notoriously complex process’.

Ms Moodie goes on to cite statistics from 2011 in support of her claim that children are ‘put into homes’ for six months to two and half years. Her figures are remarkably out of date. 2016 statistics do show that a child aged under 1 still takes an average of just under 2 years to be adopted, but 5% (230 children) were adopted under the age of 1 during that year. Of all adopted children, 83% were white. Furthermore, as at 31 March 2016, there were 270 children in ‘fostering for adoption’ placements. Most of these will have been placed as newborn babies. Far from ‘now almost impossible’.

Third, Libby Purves in The Times defended Carol Sarler ‘exposing’ the challenges faced by some adopters. This article makes some useful points about the lack of access to mental health services and the shortage of local authority resources. Purves argues that being outraged by Sarler’s tone isn’t good reason to just walk away from the problem – but it’s hard to discern what she is proposing instead by way of constructive debate.

It is even more difficult to understand the message of Carol Sarler’s article – this was well put in one of the BTL comments:

‘I struggled to see what your point was – poor social work, naïve adopters, lack of government backing, more funding?’

Paradoxically, on 1st January, the Mail ran a balanced article by Joanna Moorhead about concurrent planning which presents a completely different narrative, not only of systems and processes, but is also sympathetic about the baby’s birth parents.
Taken together, these three Mail articles present a confusing picture, not greatly helped by the vague assertions in the Times.