There have been four adverts for adoptive parents for children in the Mirror this week with another due tomorrow for  ‘National Adoption Week’. They are here:

They are accompanied by links to First for Adoption who run National Adoption Week and offer a first point of access to all prospective adopters with their ‘Step by Step Guide to Adoption’ and ‘myth buster’

The adverts sit within the Mirror ‘news’ section. They are written as long and emotionally stirring articles that blur the boundaries between news reports and adverts. All publish what we assume to be real first names and photographs of the children alongside details of their personalities, their hopes, strengths and vulnerabilities.

Advertising children to potential adoptive parents, using real photographs and details, in the mainstream press, is a sensitive topic that inspires strong views. Without doubt, and for understandable reasons, it can cause distress to birth parents whose own children have been removed for adoption. We assume it may be particularly distressing for the birth parents of the actual children advertised.

The adverts have also drawn comments on twitter about hypocrisy, in that birth families potentially face criminal sanctions like imprisonment for publishing photographs and identifying details of their children online or in the media linking them to court proceedings. While professionals identifying children through adverts for adoptive families is presented as in their interests.

Some comments on twitter suggest that a court hearing about whether or not the ‘adverts’ could go ahead would or should have been required.

It’s not the aim of the Transparency Project or its new Family Court Reporting Watch initiative, to persuade people that this initiative is ‘right’, ‘wrong’ or warranted for these children. The following facts and analysis simply offer some further relevant information from which people can make up their own minds.

• Once a Placement Order has been made councils are not normally required by law to seek permission of the Court or the birth parents to advertise children. (It’s different if the Placement Order is not yet made but that is unlikely to apply to the children being advertised here).

• The Placement Order, once granted, is sufficient legal authority for the council to advertise a child’s profile, including a photo and description, albeit that it remains relatively unusual for this to take place in the national press rather than smaller, less public outlets. Typically, a child would have a profile created with photo and description which would be advertised in flyers, features or even DVDs, across regional forums and on the National Adoption Register unless an in-borough placement was already being actively pursued. Ever more innovative ways of ‘advertising’ children to potential families (like adoption activity days) are developing.

• The usual statutory bar on publishing information identifying the child as the subject of family court proceedings would no longer apply once the care and placement order proceedings were over, until any adoption proceedings later commenced. So permission from the court would not be needed.

• All of the children selected for these adverts have plainly been waiting a long time already for adoptive parents to be found for them. There is no sense that this is strategy of first resort, but of last resort, for children who have characteristics that often make it harder for them to find an adoptive family – being in a sibling group, having extra needs including learning disabilities and emotional / behavioural difficulties and/or belonging to a minority ethnic group.

• No doubt those who took the decision to ‘advertise’ the children in a national newspaper in this way considered that the lifelong benefits to these particular children justified the loss of their privacy. Those benefits being a last chance of moving out of the care system into an adoptive family without being separated from sister and brothers. The alternative for most of these children isn’t other measures to find an adoptive family to keep them together but the stark choice of splitting siblings against their interests, wishes and care plans so they can find adopters alone; or returning their cases to court for agreement that they stay in the care system for the rest of their childhood with a long term foster placement sought for them together. (Sometimes of course the possibility of a successful, happy long term foster placement is overlooked in the search for the ‘gold star option’ of adoption; and sometimes insufficient effort is made to see if a short term foster placement working well for a child can be converted).

• We don’t know to what extent the particular birth families affected here were warned in advance or consulted. We would like to assume they were. When a Placement Order has been made, the birth parents don’t lose parental responsibility but it is shared with Children’s Services who have the legal authority to severely curtail its practical effect. This includes by way of many steps preparatory to placing a child for adoption such as advertising their profile. There is no legal requirement to obtain the consent of birth parents after the Placement Order or to consult with them about advertising. Best practice and common sense obviously demand that birth families are warned ahead and ideally consulted and given an opportunity to agree.

• Our sense is that there is a noticeably greater realism in the reporting about the extra needs of these children and the extra  capacity of the adoptive parents they would require, compared to this time last year.

It is not difficult to see an argument that the balance can fall in favour for some children, of a last-ditch attempt by an advert in the national press, to find them an adoptive family and keep them with their siblings. For children like these, who have waited for a long time, so a decision is now needed on whether they can be adopted together or their plans need to change back to fostering or separating them; where all other more private efforts have been made; where unnecessary distress to the birth family has been minimised by consulting ahead with full explanations; where the child consents to the extent possible given their age and ability; and where serious consideration has been given to whether the balance for some children falls in favour of pushing to turn unintentionally long ‘short term’ foster placements, where children have thrived and become attached to their carers, into long term foster placements. Arguably such adverts must also be realistic about the needs of children and their future carers and clear about their use for a limited group of children.