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TACT: Adoption and Fostering - a balanced debate?

Adoption and Fostering - a balanced debate?

By Richard Parnell, Policy Advisor at TACT (the Adolescent and Children's Trust)

The recent report by Martin Neary has opened a debate on the decreasing number of adoptions in the UK in recent years. As both a fostering and adoption agency, TACT has an interest in this important debate. However, for this article I want to concentrate on the role of fostering. TACT is concerned that popular opinion can be influenced by unfortunate comments such as Mr. Nearey’s that that if not adopted ‘children are languishing in the care system’. This fails to recognise both the key role played by the thousands of foster carers who care for the majority of children and young people looked after by local authorities in the UK as well as the fact that for many children fostering is the best option available.*

Many of these children come into the care system because of the neglect and abuse they have suffered at the hands of their birth families. As a consequence they are too often scarred by both the trauma of these events and by the process of being taken into care. Additionally it is important to remember that many children enter the care system with already established attachment to their birth families and just because they cannot live with their birth families it does mean that such relationships should be taken away from them.

Offering to care for these children is a difficult, yet so often a rewarding, experience with many children and young people having their life chances enhanced by being part of a foster care family. Last week, in TACT’s head office, we had an excited group of fostered young people celebrating their GCSE results with us. They would not see themselves as languishing in the care system!

Research shows that, providing the child and the foster carer are well matched, long term fostering produces good outcomes for children. It is important therefore not to write off children in the care system because they are not adopted and to appreciate the many thousands of foster cares in the UK who are just ordinary people doing a difficult and demanding job. Their rewards are not based on material gain – nobody gets rich being a foster carer – but trying to make things better for children and young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in care system.

‘Being in care’ is often seen as a pejorative term, with the accompanying assumption being that such children and young people are already a lost cause. Foster carers don’t see them that way. Supporting these children through foster care can, and does, help them with their life chances. Being in a family that is caring and offers long term stability is key. It can be fostering, adoption or anything in between. Rather than disregarding fostering, more needs to be done to understand the needs of children, what provision works for them and placing them in the best situation for their needs.

Let’s have a balanced debate; not based on a misguided perception that adoption is ‘best’ but based on what is right for each of the children and young people who come into care. This means recognising that foster care and residential care are crucial parts of the care system. As Tim Loughton, the Minister for Children, said at a recent TACT event, ‘"I want to make it absolutely clear that there is a completely level playing field. There is no hierarchy. Adoption is not better than fostering, it’s not better than being in a residential home…it’s all about what is best for that young person."

TACT couldn’t agree more.

If you want further evidence as to the benefits of fostering then I suggest you watch a short film made by TACT recording the views of children, young people and foster carers at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9llGN_wS2RU&feature=channel_video_title

Richard Parnell
Policy Advisor
TACT fostering and adoption

September 2011

* In the UK 65% of the 80,00 plus children and young people who are in the care of local authorities are looked after by foster carers

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