A protest just highlighted how adoption is the state-sanctioned, forcible removal of children from marginalised women

A protest about adoption outside the Central Family Court in London
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This is the first in a three-part series looking at adoption in the UK, focusing on marginalised mothers and caregivers. 

The state’s adoption of children has effectively become an industry in recent years. However, not all mothers and caregivers are subject to social services taking their children from them. This is because the state is disproportionately targeting women the system marginalises – be it due to ethnicity, class, disability, or chronic illness. It shows that systemic racism, ableism and classism pervades a service that is supposed to support children, not snatch them from their mothers. And the driver for all this is private profit.

Support not Separation

Support not Separation is a coalition of organisations. It fights for the right of mothers and primary caregivers against social services and courts. Specifically, Support not Separation deals with adoption and forced separation, which is when these institutions attempt to remove children from mothers. It says on its website that:

We are a coalition of organisations and individuals who have experienced or witnessed the damage caused by the forced separation of children from their mother or other primary carer and are determined to change this desperate situation.

Once a month, on the first Wednesday, the group protests outside the Central Family Court in London. On 1 March it was there again – as well as holding a “virtual” protest online. Support not Separation specifically focuses on the intersections within adoption – like class and disability:

The group also highlights the inherent misogyny that exists in the system, and how it ignores domestic violence from men:

However, crucially, the group also focuses on how the system forces so many adoptions to take place without mothers’ consent:

Other campaign groups are involved. WinVisible is a group for women living with visible and invisible disabilities. It highlighted that it was the sixth anniversary of the protest:

At the heart of Support not Separation’s work, though, is the state of adoption services in the UK and how they fail women and children.

Adoption: a state-run industry

Adoption in the UK is effectively a state-run industry, with private companies making hundreds of millions in profit. However, all too often adoption is no longer in the child’s best interests. Nor are they adopted with the mother’s explicit consent. It is now driven by profit motives and underscored by racism, prejudice, and classism. It’s unsurprising when the value of a child to these private companies is around £100,000.

As Cherry Casey wrote for Prospect in October 2022, “forced adoptions are not in the past”:

The UK is unusual, compared to the rest of Europe, for the frequency of forced adoptions. Exact statistics are difficult to pin down, but data from 2014 suggests that almost half of the 5,050 children adopted in the previous year were given new homes without their parents’ consent. In England alone, 80,000 children were removed from their parents in the year up to March 2021. Of those, 4,600 had a “placement order granted” for their removal. The context behind the removal of the remaining 76,000, is less clear.

According to Alexandra Conroy Harris, a legal consultant for CoramBAAF… this means the removals “will almost certainly have been made without the consent of the child’s parents.” The 2021 data also shows that of 2,270 children “placed in adoption,” only 290, or 13 per cent, were adopted “with consent”.

This is not news to Support not Separation. It conducted research in 2021 based on 219 mothers and 411 children involved in family court cases (for example custody battles or fighting against social services). The group said that:

Over half the mothers had had their children taken from them (a significant increase from 2017). In 30% of cases the children were living with the abusive father; 14% had children in foster care. And 10% had children adopted without their consent. This shocking figure gives lie to the idea that forced adoptions are historic, they are in fact a present-day policy of punishment and social cleansing

However, behind the figures is the core of the issue: social services are disproportionately targeting marginalised mothers. Within in this pervades a culture dominated by systemic misogyny, racism, ableism and classism.

Parts two and three in this series will be looking at the intersections of these issues – and how adoptions are driven by companies’ profit motives, not children, and mothers’ and caregivers’ wellbeing. 

Featured image via the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign

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  • Show Comments
    1. As a child in the 1950s, I spent my first two and a half years in a ‘Christian’ adoption centre. I can assure you that neglect at an early age is the most underrated and overlooked form of abuse. It has lasting consequences including: anxiety, depression, apathy, failure to reach potential aggression, hyperactivity, delay in development, addictions, withdrawal from relationships, inability to have emotional closeness and lack of empathy.
      Tackling this is the greater problem, not the rights of women who neglect their children. And you are only going to increase it by keeping the children with their mothers in a society that leaves these mothers to look after themselves or offloads it to charities.

    2. It’s a shame to see such a poorly informed article.

      First, there is no consideration of the child’s perspective. It is a sad truth that sometimes children cannot live in their families of origin because of the risks to them at home. Only very few children are adopted each year and when that happens it is always because those children have already been so seriously abused or neglected, or are at extremely high risk of harm (e.g. many adopted children have FASD/neonatal abstinence syndrome from high alcohol/drug use in utero). Prior to this children’s services try extremely hard to work with families to keep children safe at home and avoid any extreme interventions. Yes, historic adoption practices were awful and were wrong in removing children from unmarried mothers – practice driven by attitudes at the time and social stigma, which is no excuse but provides important context. However children’s social care and adoption today are very different. There is a huge focus on working with parents and families prior to intervention. If consent was sought for every child taken into care or adopted, there would be much more harm to children and deaths of children. The recent cases of Arthur Labinjo Hughes and Star Hobson are just a couple of examples of how dangerous some homes and care-givers can be.

      It is very troubling to see vulnerable and marginalised parents and families have children removed from them, and there is a need to stop this cycle. But the solution cannot simply be not to intervene in their family lives when children are at risk. This will only perpetuate the cycle with children growing up having experienced extreme trauma. Much more investment and support needs to reach these families, that is clear.

      Second, the comments about adoption in the UK being an industry making millions in profit is plainly false. All adoption agencies are either statutory or not-for profit, by law. Private providers make up the majority of the care sector (foster and residential care for children) but they do not exist in adoption. To get this wrong is very problematic and shows the lack of research which has gone into this piece.

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