When I was the Minister responsible for the Department of Social Security, I did a lot of research into what caused people to need social security and who were the recipients of it. Time and again I found the people at the core of every social problem were disproportionately likely to have been brought up in the care of the State.
It became clear to me that where the State acts as parent, it has disastrously failed the children in its care.
Compared with other young people, children leaving care are:
4 times as likely to be unemployed
12 times as likely to have no educational qualification
60 times as likely to be roofless
40 times as likely to go to prison
8 times as likely to become teenage parents
66 times as likely to have children who also go into care.
By contrast, children who are adopted usually do as well or better than the average even of children raised by their natural parents. By all the standard measures such as success at school, getting jobs, getting and staying married and bringing up their own children, adopted children do far better than those who remain in care, those who are brought up in divided families and even those who are brought up in normal birth families.
However, our system has been institutionally hostile to adoption. Only 2,000 of the 58,000 children in care are adopted each year. And they suffer long delays during which they may be shunted from one foster family to another many times. Almost one in five children have more than three placements in a year; one in seven have more than six. Fewer than half of those who have been in care for four years or more have spent two years continuously with the same foster parent. We are putting children in care at an added disadvantage on top of all the problems that they experienced in their early life before they came into care. There has not been enough urgency in trying to overcome that.
Several of my friends have experienced the hostility of some politically correct social workers. One West Indian friend was even rejected as an adoptive parent because he show insufficient awareness of racism! Adoptive parents have to prove simultaneously that they are exceptionally able ? that it would, therefore, be worth taking a child out of care or foster care to give to them for adoption ? and that they were not exceptional. If they are exceptional, they might be thought odd. If they are too clever, too bright or too motivated, that is often taken as a negative factor.
Contrary to expectations, more than half the children who are adopted from state care entered care before their first birthday; more than half of those entered care within a month of being born. Many adopted children have therefore been in the care system since they were very young, yet the average age of placement is three and a half years, and that of adoption is five and a half years. There are long delays in the system for even the minority of children who are adopted.
That is why I supported the Bill brought in by my Conservative colleague, Caroline Spelman. It will introduce ?fast tracking? to speed up adoption of young children. It will also give local authorities an incentive to recruit and support adoptive parents. At present the authority loses out if parents adopt from outside their area. So the Bill will ?passport? financial support so that the taxpayers? money follows the child. Last but not least, we need a campaign to change attitudes in favour of adoption.