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  • Author or Editor: June Thoburn x
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This chapter draws on writer’s experiences as: a student ona postgraduate child care officer course in 1962; a child and family and then a generalist ‘patch’ social worker; a social work lecturer and researcher; a board member of the General Social Care Council (GSCC); and in the voluntary sector. References to key texts are woven into a commentary on the changing views between the 1950sand the late 2010s about necessary knowledge for social workers in the early stages of their career. Detailed knowledge needed for more specialist and supervisory roles is beyond the scope of this chapter.

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Prior to the 1980s, most adoptions in England were of infants whose birth parent(s) requested adoption or were adoptions by a step-parent. In the early years after the Adoption Act 1927, numbers rose gradually and reached a peak in the 1960s. Although these were technically placements at the request of parent(s) (usually only the mother), in reality, those ‘giving up’ a child for adoption (most often shortly after birth) to (mainly) childless couples did so because of the stigma of illegitimacy and the lack of housing and income that would have made it possible for them to parent the child. From the 1950s onwards, improved welfare provision, a reduction in stigma and the availability of contraception led to a fall in numbers. For children who may need out-of-home care, the emphasis especially since the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (strengthened by Section 17 of the Children Act 1989) was to assist parents to avoid the need for care and work for speedy reunification. Limitation of parents’ rights was only possible via a court order or the assumption of parental rights by the local authority (LA) if return home seemed unlikely. Small numbers were adopted from care but placement for adoption from care was not generally pursued for children who were past infancy, had disabilities or were of minority ethnic heritage. In summary, until the mid-1970s the position in England was very similar to that which currently applies in most European jurisdictions.

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The legislation, protocols and practice relevant to relationships between birth family members, adopters and adoptees (as children and adults) has changed over time and varies across countries in light of their particular models of adoption in general and adoption from care specifically. This is apparent in the past and present language used. In England, the more rights-based term ‘access’ changed in legal and practice terminology to ‘contact’, and the term preferred by some members of adoptive and birth families is now ‘family time’. Some authors of the chapters in this book refer to ‘visitation’ for meetings and use the broader term ‘open adoption’ for a wider range of arrangements. These changes in terminology recognise movements in legislation and practice that have occurred in recent years. Acknowledgement has grown that post-adoption links will vary over the lifetime of the adopted child/adult and with differing lifetime events of the birth and adoptive family members. For their research on contact in adoptive families, Neil et al (2015) use the term ‘communicative openness’ (first used and summarised by Brodzinsky [2006] and more recently by Grotevant et al [2013]) when referring to the approach of adopters who have succeeded in making a range of contact arrangements work well for children with differing needs.

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The 1989 Children Act is a widely admired piece of legislation. This chapter traces its genesis of the legislation and examines the value base of the legislation and its implications for social work practice. The political social and economic trends which have impacted on the implementation are analysed. Has the risk aversion which has led to increased numbers of ‘looked after’ children undermined the balance between family support and child protection reflected in the Act? The cuts in family support services have made it hard to realise the partnership with parents which was one of the key themes of the Act. There remains a hope that the vision and intentions of the legislation may yet be achieved

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International Perspectives on Children’s Rights, Family Preservation and State Intervention

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This book explores how children’s rights are practised and weighed against birth and adoptive parents’ rights and examines how governments and professionals balance rights when it is decided that children cannot return to parental care.

From different socio-political and legal contexts in Europe and the United States, it provides an in-depth analysis of concepts of family, contact, the child’s best-interest principle and human rights when children are adopted from care.

Taking an international comparative approach to these issues, this book provides detailed information on adoption processes and shares learning from best practice and research across country boundaries to help improve outcomes for all children in care for whom adoption may be the placement of choice.

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All countries are signatories to the principles and rights laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC and comparative studies show that, at the national level, there are some similar basic principles underpinning the family welfare and child protection systems in many high-income countries (Gilbert et al, 2011; Skivenes et al 2015; Burns et al, 2017; Berrick et al, forthcoming). These basic principles include: the central importance of the best interest and well-being of the child when key decisions are taken; an emphasis on family preservation and valuing the child’s relationships with birth parents and siblings; principles of least intrusion from the state; and the child protection system only having secondary responsibility for children compared with the family. However, the degree to which governments focus on each of these principles differs, and this is especially so if one considers the potentially contradictory principles that are most relevant when considering placement policies when children need to be removed and come into public care. In the majority of cases, therefore, there is scope for interpretation about what course of action will be ‘in the child’s best interest’, leaving space for courts, child protection front-line staff and, indeed, whole countries to determine the balance between these commonly accepted principles. It is not an exaggeration to point out that parental rights and family preservation have a strong standing in most states and systems, with the result that the rights of the child often come second to parental rights and are challenging for nation states and courts to respect and promote.

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This book has its focus on a very special group of children, namely, children in public care for whom adoption may be appropriate. It is about children who, for various reasons, are the responsibility of the child protection system and the government in a country. The traditional division of responsibilities between the family and the state has been altered for these children; for them, it is the state that has the formal responsibility to raise them and evoked the parens patriae. Of course, in practice, children are raised by foster parents, kin and extended family, and residential care workers; however, it is nevertheless the state that has the formal authority to make decisions about the child, and to ensure that the child’s needs are appropriately met, as would any good parent.

The recent WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission article ‘A future for the world’s children?’ (Clarke et al, 2020) measures the foundational conditions for today’s children, across the world, to survive and thrive. The nine countries in this book are, with two exceptions, among the top 20 in terms of children’s living conditions. The exceptions are Estonia (ranked 27) and the US (ranked 39) (Clarke et al, 2020). As we remarked upon in the introductory chapter, the countries approach their responsibilities towards children in different ways, with those approaches varying from risk-oriented child protection systems to family service systems with a focus on the family and on children’s rights (Gilbert et al, 2011).

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