Western Mail, 8th November 2010
AT LEAST 772 children have been placed for adoption in Wales in the past five years, after local authorities obtained court orders overriding parental consent.

Councils can apply to courts for a placement order in order to be able to place a child for adoption, which a court can grant if it agrees it is in the best interest of the child.

The new figures, obtained under Freedom of Information requests, show Rhondda Cynon Taf has the highest number of children placed for adoption in this way at 103 since the start of 2006.

The statistics suggest that the resulting adoptions make up the majority of adoptions dealt with by councils, making up 42 out of 47 cases in Blaenau Gwent, 49 out of 52 in Bridgend, 30 out of 31 in Merthyr Tydfil and 17 out of 20 in Monmouthshire.

Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of charity Adoption UK, said the figures reflected the changing face of adoption in the UK. He said: “It’s very different from the situation 40 years ago where children were being adopted because society didn’t approve of unmarried mothers.

“These days it’s about social services intervention in children’s lives.

“What they will always try to do is work to try to keep children in the family. Sometimes that won’t work. It’s a very rigorous process.”

However, he warned that the circumstances in which these adoptions take place may have knock-on effects for adoptive parents and adopted children, as children who social services have had to remove from abusive or neglectful situations may be affected in the long-term.

He said children may also struggle to understand that they were removed because it was in their best interests.

Mr Pearce said: “Social workers do life-story work to try and give children a sense of what has happened in their past.

“There’s a move to be more open and honest with children about why they removed. For many of these children, they’ve come from horrendously abusive backgrounds.

“When they look at their life storybook, the message is, ‘your parents couldn’t cope, they weren’t able to look after you’, when the situation was they were beating them up.

“They’re saying, ‘If things were so positive, or not that bad, why was I taken away?’ That’s very confusing for the children.”

The adoptions that take place after court orders have been obtained are referred to as forced adoptions by campaigners who believe that in some cases social services are trying to meet government targets rather than acting in the best interests of the child.

Mr Pearce said that while birth parents may describe these adoptions as forced, because the majority do not want to lose their children, it was not quite right, as sometimes the state needs to intervene to protect children.

Elizabeth Williams, a solicitor at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice in Cardiff, who represents families fighting care and placement orders, said the system does give families an opportunity to sort out parenting problems.

She said: “We see a steady flow [of cases]. There was a bit of an influx after the Baby P case, I think social services panicked a bit and investigated more cases. I think it’s settled down now.

“Once the court has got it a lot of people are concerned about how long it takes.

“The reason it takes so long is that the parents need to be able to prove they’re able to look after their children.

“The court tries to give them every opportunity to try and improve. Once you get to a final order, the court has decided it’s best for the child to be adopted or placed in long-term foster care.”

She said the hardest cases are where the parents have really tried to make improvements and have made progress but it has not been enough to get their children back.

The figures on how many children were adopted without their parents’ consent since 2006 were obtained through Freedom of Information request via the What Do They Know website, with responses.

All the councils responded to this, or a separate request about the number of children placed for adoption after court orders, apart from Vale of Glamorgan, which said the number of children involved was so small there was a risk they could be identified.