Magazine article The Spectator

Adoption Begins at Home

Magazine article The Spectator

Adoption Begins at Home

Article excerpt

Pity the refugees, but think of our own abandoned children

Would you open your home to a migrant child? If the reaction to the drowning of three-year-old Alan Kurdi is anything to go by, thousands of families across Britain are ready to welcome Syrian refugee children -- including an impressive number of politicians. Bob Geldof has offered space for three families in one of his spare houses. Walking past the two empty beds in my spare room, I felt the same tug: why couldn't those beds have two little heads nestling on the pillows, safe after years of horror? It's the same instinct we feel when a toddler tumbles over on the street and his face crumples up into tears: we want to help, we want to hug.

But there's something odd about the rush of offers to help Syrian children. I could have filled those two beds in my spare bedroom long ago with needy children who hadn't crossed continents to reach safety. The Fostering Network, a charity, says it needs to find 8,370 families this year alone to look after vulnerable children in Britain. There are 80,000 children in state care on any one day in the UK, about 63,000 of whom live with foster families. The shortage of homes means desperate social workers can end up placing children with families who aren't quite right for them. So placements break down, and the cycle of damage continues.

Foster parents are paid a small weekly allowance to look after children who still keep their ties with their birth family; adoption transfers all legal rights from birth parents to adoptive parents. There's no shortage of people coming forward to adopt newborns, but these couples are often disappointed: unwanted babies tend not to make it to the maternity ward nowadays. The number of adopted children has fallen by 80 per cent over the last four decades and just 4 per cent of children adopted in the 12 months to March last year were under a year old. Most -- 76 per cent -- are between one and four years old. Children aged five and over are much harder to place.

So here's the paradox: I find myself thinking approvingly about the 21st-century Kindertransport while breezing past an ad from the council pleading for more people to come forward as foster carers for abandoned British children. …

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