Academic journal article Family Relations

Deterrents to Intercountry Adoption in Britain

Academic journal article Family Relations

Deterrents to Intercountry Adoption in Britain

Article excerpt

Some local authority social workers in Britain have used their responsibility to make parental assessments to deter parents from adopting abroad. Prospective parents of foreign children may respond to these deterrents by making unauthorized adoptions. Central government officials have condemned both unauthorized adoptions and the obstructive policies towards intercountry adoption found in some local authorities. Prospects for reform depend partly on changing attitudes, and partly on expanding the role of independent intercountry adoption agencies.

Key Words: adoption, home study, intercountry, law, UK.

There are widely differing views on the ethics of intercountry adoption (ICA). The author follows Tizard (1991) and Bartholet (1996) in believing that ICA can he very successful for the families involved. This view is supported by evidence that the outcome of an ICA is just as likely to be favorable as a domestic adoption (Altstein & Simon, 1991; Bagley, Young, & Scully, 1993; Feigelman & Silverman, 1983: 121172; Levy-Shiff, Zoran, & Shulman, 1997; Westhues & Cohen, 1998). The generally positive outcomes for children adopted from abroad can also be compared against `the realistic alternative . . . [of] a childhood spent in institutional care' (Department of Health, 1998, p. 11). A second perspective toward ICA, however, is much more negative. This view emphasizes that ICA is a potentially exploitative and corrupt activity. Furthermore, because ICA almost always involves the adoption of a child of one ethnic background by parents of another, it is subject to the criticisms that have been made of transracial adoptions.

These very different perspectives on ICA have caused debate in both the UK and the USA. In Britain, however, opponents of ICA have had a much greater impact on policy than their American counterparts. The central position in the adoption process occupied by those opposed to ICA is indicated by the comparatively small number of such adoptions. The number of foreign children adopted by British parents can only be guessed at as there are a significant number of unauthorized adoptions, but the annual figure is probably below 400. By contrast, in the USA annual numbers have risen by several thousand in the last few years to reach 15,774 in 1998 (http://www.cradle.orgn. Taking population into account, this rate of ICA is about nine times higher than in the UK.

The brief explanation for this disparity is that organizations in civil society that support ICA play a much more extensive role in the USA than they do in the UK. In many states of the US prospective adopters can legitimately arrange for private home studies and make use of agencies that specialize in ICA. In Britain prospective adopters are first required to contact the social services department of their local authority. Many local authority social workers are opposed to ICA and have used their position as gatekeepers to deter prospective parents from adopting abroad. This opposition is decentralized; it varies from one local authority adoption agency to another, so that where it might be relatively straightforward for some parents to overcome the initial barriers to an ICA it is almost impossible for others to do so.

The wide variation in policy at a local authority level is indicative of weak central government control. In theory central government has full power to determine ICA policy, but exercizing this power in practice is beset with difficulties. The first problem lies in coordinating central government policy when MPs, ministers and civil servants have competing agendas and priorities. The second problem lies in enforcing the policies that are made when local authorities ignore directives, prospective parents act independently, and the courts and immigration service maintain their autonomy. It is not, therefore, easy for central government to control the actions of either parents trying to adopt or social workers trying to stop them, and for many years it has made little attempt to intervene. …

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