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Children need love, not red tape

What are we to do with agencies employed by us to carry out a specific task yet which give every appearance of simply refusing or being incapable of carrying out that task? I have a pretty good idea what industry or commerce would do. In America they would say they’d need to kick ass. This particular task is so important that the Prime Minister himself has joined the fray.

Here I refer to those agencies responsible for getting children out of the care system and into loving and supportive homes.

Black and coloured children are often the hardest of all to place.

Last week OFSTED published some truly shocking statistics. Among the many figures which made such depressing reading was the fact that only one in eight of the people who wished to adopt were approved by social services. From a total of 20,000 adoptions in the mid 1970s, the figure has fallen to a fraction over 3,000 today.

Nobody, apart from that closed circle of social services, knows the breakdown of reasons why so many were rejected and they won’t tell us. What is known is that many of the reasons are varied and extraordinary. So much concerning children these days is conveniently hidden behind a veil of secrecy. That veil permits intolerable things to happen in our name.

Take the latest: the virtual kidnapping of the two orphans of the Alpine murders in France. The dead mother’s sister wants to take care of them, but oh no, social workers say they must be taken into care. Their disdain of the children’s surviving family is so great that they will not even answer their emails or other enquiries. Shocking tragedy is compounded by gratuitous additional tragedy.

UNICEF revealed in a recent report that 60 per cent of children brought up in our national childcare system end up either criminals, homeless or suicidal. How bad is that terrible statistic? It should make us all feel ashamed. So finding children homes and getting them out of care is of the utmost importance.

Unfortunately we live in a box-ticking age. You wouldn’t want to know the number of boxes which have to be ticked before you are given the green light to adopt. Like the driving test it has got harder and harder, though in this case exponentially so. So hard, in fact, that another report said that most of us wouldn’t be able to adopt our own kids. It therefore seems nonsensical for the Government to announce a National Adoption Week calling for thousands more people to apply to adopt. Last year 25,380 did just that, but only a measly 3,048 made it through the multiple hoops and mile-high hurdles that were put in their way. Not exactly an encouragement for more to come forward.

My own advice to Social Services (and this is from someone who spent 15 years in care) is to take your hat off to a person who will take on somebody else’s child. There is no pecuniary incentive to do so, unlike fostering. And they will spend a river of love and treasure over the years in making that child their own. In fact, this should be the default position in of Social Services. In my view it takes a very special kind of person who will set aside the ties of blood.

Evolution makes it easy for the natural parent to bond. To do so in other circumstances is laudable in the highest degree and we should stand in awe of those many who choose to do so. With the way things have developed you could almost be forgiven for thinking they are treated with suspicion by Social Services, as though they must prove themselves first. Yes, of course there has to be proper vetting, but is it right that the bar should be set at such a height that most of us parents would not clear it?

You might say it was great good fortune that because of lucky biology we didn’t have to take the test. Pity the poor would-be parents who were not so lucky. Why should they be double punished by being put through the mill in quite the way they are? And what are the reasons they are rejected?

As I say, Social Services will not give us a straight answer; indeed, they give us no answer at all. But we do know that if one of the applicants smokes that will count against them. Or if they are of a certain age, that too, or if in not-so-good health, or too fat, too poor, too stupid or too messy or too much of anything (a member of UKIP, perhaps); all will be weighed in the balance. Most contentious of all is if they are not of the same race. Black and coloured children, as it happens, are the hardest of all to place. Of course it would be ideal if children could all look the same as their adoptive parents, but are we to take the view that a black or coloured child would be better off staying in care if we cannot find an ethnically perfect match? Again my hat comes off to those couples who will happily take a child from another race, and there are more of those than you would think. And I’ll tell you what! All decent people – who despite the litany of horror stories in the papers still form the great majority – will have nothing but admiration for those who do.

More must be allowed to adopt across the race divide because, in truth there is no divide, as Social Services would have you believe. If there were, black and coloured contestants on the likes of X Factor wouldn’t stand a chance. In fact, so far have we come in race relations that I have actually come to believe that your life chances in Britain PLC may be better today if you are not Caucasian.

The other great scandal is the length of time it takes the authorities to process an adoption – anything up to three years (the average time is 636 days). That is a lifetime to a child.

So not only have the barriers to come down but the speed must be greatly accelerated. Never mind looking for the perfect match racially as though you were looking for the perfect kidney. The fact is that we live in an imperfect world and getting those kids out of care pronto and into the warm embrace of a loving family must be the overriding priority. Remember the wretched outcome of those sad 60 per cent who never made it out of care and what became of them.

A hard core of dysfunctional families

A hard core exists within our country of seriously dysfunctional families: around 130,000 or so according to a recent government-commissioned report.

Children from these families can best be described as ‘feral’, and they account for a disproportionate amount of the crime in their communities.

Their parents are simply not cut out for the hugely responsible job of care and parenting, with all the sacrifice and commitment which this entails. The truth is they cannot even manage their own lives, never mind those of their often many offspring. As a consequence, these children receive no parental guidance and in many cases no love either. Their lives are doomed from the very start, and it is difficult to know what can be done in such a situation.

A suggestion has been put forward by the head of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) to pluck these children from their hopeless home environments and bestow on them the very considerable benefits of a boarding school education.

Although nothing can compensate for an abusive and loveless setup at home, what could go a long way to giving these unfortunate children a chance in life is to give them a first-class education – something to which their own parents attach no importance.

Regardless of what has gone on at home, a mind that has been stretched, educated and, yes, disciplined, can still break free from a hopeless family and go on to better things. Such a cultivated mind might return to their families during term breaks and talk some sense into their feckless, couldn’t-care-less parents.

At the very least, if they did not succeed in this – although some might – they would be later able to present themselves to the world of work as potentially valuable assets to their company of choice.

The newly appointed head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, deserves to be praised for being prepared to address this difficult issue.

Britain has always been admired around the world for the quality of its boarding school ethos. They turned out to be the elite that made it possible for us to hold our worldwide empire together. It was very much the model on which Plato himself said would make for an ideal education.

Not long ago, the children’s charity UNICEF released figures concerning the life chances of British children who passed through Britain’s current care system; they were truly shocking and dispiriting. Based on historical evidence, the figures stated that 30% would likely grow up to become criminals, 20% homeless and 10% suicidal.

Such statistics caused me to wonder why it was that such a large majority of my own peers in the Foundling Hospital made happy and successful lives for themselves. They had, after all, been very much in ‘the care system’, and in their case did not even know who their own parents were.

But the new school which replaced their 200-year-old one in central London was a truly splendid affair with top-draw facilities; it occupied around a hundred acres and had its own farm which provided fresh produce for the children. The teachers and housemasters were, for the most part, kindly and sympathetic people who had themselves been well educated. But there were red lines and they were crossed at your peril.

Children developed a respect for authority along with a love for their country and were sound in the three Rs. There was an emotional deficit, just as there is in today’s troubled children, but the ordered life, three square meals a day and sound, if basic, education allowed them to overcome their other difficulties.

Why I am so convinced that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s has got it right is that the removal for a large part of the year from the mayhem and inadequacies of their home life will introduce them to another world. They would be free to realise their full potential, learn to treat others with respect and eventually step out into the world as cultured, educated human beings. What is not an option is that in the face of such appalling figures from UNICEF we do nothing. The whole situation shames us.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is to be lauded, not vilified, for his brave intervention in this perilous field of what to do with our problem children. If he is successful, the country will owe him a debt beyond measure. Pilot schemes must be set up without delay and the results carefully monitored.

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