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Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Should everyone be allowed to have children?

Katie and Chloe have been waiting their whole lives to be adopted

The care system is letting down a growing number of British children whose birth parents cannot or will not support them and who have little chance of successful adoption, argues the distinguished documentary film-maker, Roger Graef.

I am most uncomfortable in writing this - but I want to question the right for anyone and everyone to have children.

Or rather to bear children because more and more are being taken away from their birth parents and into the care of the state - since Baby P there has been a 40% rise in care applications .

There are now 65,000 children in care in England alone. But fewer than 5% of them will be adopted. And at least one in five of those will be returned to care.

In the three films we have made for Panorama about vulnerable children, one pattern has emerged. The parents of those whose children are taken into care are often truly dysfunctional.

We filmed several with learning disabilities which in one case led to all of her seven children being taken away at birth or soon after.

Of course, learning disability is not in itself grounds for removing children. Some parents do very well, especially with supportive partners.

Chaotic parents

Social workers are often demonised for interfering, and "kidnapping" children from their family homes.

A child awaiting adoption
Fewer than one in 20 children awaiting adoption will find a family

Some problem parents manage to turn their lives around. But too often the lifestyles of the birth parents are so chaotic, violent and risky, the decision is obvious - when the best interests of the child are considered.

That is why the state ends up looking after their kids - often from birth to 18 when they leave care.

The cost of a child in foster care is £150 a day. Do the maths. The sums involved in 18 years of care are astronomical. They do less well at school. And too many of them end up in prison, at more vast cost to the taxpayer - and personal cost to them.

The Right to Family Life is enshrined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act . This is used by birth parents in care cases to try to challenge the care order or in the far fewer cases of proposed adoption.

They do this in nine out of 10 cases - adding to the already long delays in finding and vetting appropriate families.

CSJ Statement

Gavin Poole, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has issued the following statement about Panorama: The Truth about Adoption.

This powerful documentary underscores the realities of our failing adoption culture and the heartbreaking impact it has on young children.

We need a streamlined adoption system that is not unduly risk-averse or overly bureaucratised, and follows the changes called for by Prof Eileen Munro in regards to the wider child protection system.

Faster and more concurrent fostering and adoption would shift the balance of risk away from vulnerable children and to where it should belong - onto the adults.

Far too often children are held in limbo, ferried from one set of parents to another, harbouring deep-seated anxieties about rejection and loss.

A reformed adoption process would act with speed, sensitivity of support and put the welfare of children at its heart.

We welcome recent announcements from the prime minister to simplify and speed up the adoption process. An inability to get a grip on this problem will transfer a social and economic failure from one generation to another.

The average wait for a child to be adopted is a poignant two years and seven months. The older the child gets, the less their chance of being adopted - or if adopted, for the link to the new family to succeed.

It is time we addressed this problem at both ends. Far more support is needed for adopting parents, and far less complex and time-consuming procedures are needed to choose them and link them to children.

Children in limbo

The contrast between the lottery of birth parents having children whatever their circumstances or abilities to care for them versus the exhaustive process in choosing a perfect family for them could not be greater.

Of course precautions are needed to avoid placing children with truly unsuitable people - on drugs, with a criminal record or other social problems.

But as Josine Junger-Tas, the Dutch criminologist once said: "All it takes for the development of a normal personality is to have someone irrationally crazy about you. And it needn't be a parent."

Meanwhile, thousands of children are left in limbo. We have filmed children waiting five years to be adopted.

Another three in our film were adopted after several different foster carers, and then returned to care after three years of being with their adoptive family.

Back in temporary foster care once again, their pain and confusion is tangible. Their mother has cleaned up her act and meets them again for half an hour after four years of separation.

But she is homeless and could not possibly have them back. They do not know where they'll be living after Christmas.

There are no obvious answers. But we must take far more seriously the task of educating young women especially about the reality and consequences of having children they cannot care for.

Political correctness and undue respect for birth parents' rights simply cannot be allowed to destroy the lives of so many children - in whose name all this is being done.

Roger Graef is executive producer of The Truth about Adoption, a Panorama Special on BBC One at 21:00 GMT on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 and then available online in the UK via iPlayer at the above link.

The Truth About Adoption - useful contacts
Monday, 12 December 2011, 18:47 GMT |  Panorama



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