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Background factors affecting the current state of baby adoption

Adoption Support in Society Today (ASIST) has tried to assess why baby adoption is viewed so negatively and thus today rarely happens.
Why is it with ever increasing numbers of unplanned pregnancies that so few women choose to place their babies for adoption?
It seemed to us to be because of a variety of complex factors as listed and explained below. Click each to find out more


Due to the huge social stigma in the, 50s and 60s of having a baby out of wedlock, many women had no choice but to place their babies for adoption. These girls were often sent to institutions that they knew nothing about, in secret and against their will and treated as “naughty girls”. They had no say in what happened to their baby or the sort of parents their baby was going to. They didn't hear anything more and they were left to wonder and mourn with little to no chance to talk about their experiences. It appeared that the stigma surrounding illegitimate babies from the 50s and 60s was still here but transferred to the principle of adoption itself.

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The role of the media and public perception:

It was the stories of such women that the press often published and focused on the minority of adoptions that had not worked out. As these women spoke out in later life about how traumatised by the whole experience they were, it seemed to further fuel an anti adoption atmosphere. This led to policies of doing nothing to break the relationship between birth mother and baby and maintaining that at all costs, even when common sense might tell you, that this might be a situation where a mother might not be able to parent ‐ resulting in children drifting in and out of the care system and adoption being rarely considered for such children.
It appeared that because adoption had been traumatic for some in the past then it should be done away with.

However, the answer to misuse is not disuse but right use.

Adoption seemed to have very negative media coverage and adoption story lines in TV dramas and soaps would again be negative and didn't reflect good adoption practice. One retired health visitor, who used to work in a home for pregnant girls in the 60s and 70s painted quite a different picture ‐ of a place where girls were supported and helped through the whole process. She worked in a hostel that had been bought by Warwickshire Social Services and housed about 8 women at a time. These were not only young girls but women in the middle of their careers who required privacy (not secrecy) whilst placing their babies for adoption. These women were helped and supported by both staff and each other before and after the baby was born.

Not all of the babies were placed for adoption but all women were helped with the decisions they made. The health visitor was very clear that it was each woman's decision.

It was against this background that ASIST started work on producing the first draft of the brochure, Baby Adoption Today, to communicate the idea of good, modern, adoption practice as it could be today and address the issue of information.

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Availability of Information

We had looked at any information we could find about baby adoption and where this was available. This only seemed to be available in places dealing with adoption; nothing was readily available to the public in places such as doctor's surgeries, clinics, hospitals, and libraries etc. where a pregnant lady could easily pick up information.

ASIST would like to see all GP's surgeries, hospitals, pregnancy counselling centres, contraceptive clinics, chemists etc having freely available information.

Having begun to circulate the brochure, initially to GP's, with a help line number on the back, we received calls for more brochures and from pregnant women requiring help. From these calls a concern grew that we were not always able to refer women to a specialist adoption agency in their area or a local social services dept that would understand their request or have the expertise to support them. It seemed to be a bit of a postcode lottery. In other words it depended where you lived as to whether there was an adoption agency able to help a woman with her decision making process. Indeed this view has been supported by recent discussions with an OFSTED inspector.

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Lack of Training

Many professionals who would come into contact with a woman with an unplanned pregnancy such as social workers, midwives, GP's etc have not received any training on baby adoption indeed some share the same prejudices against it as highlighted in the media. Indeed we know that a few years ago adoption was not even a statutory part of Social Worker training so that social workers were working in children and family teams with no knowledge or experience of adoption. If they did have any contact with adoption it was often when things hadn't worked out or through section 51 counselling when an adoptee wishes to trace their birth families. Then the desire to trace could be seen as an admission of failure rather than natural curiosity. Social workers did not have contact with adoptees who had no desire to trace. This gave some social workers a distorted and negative view of the success of adoption and an unbalanced view on the need to have face to face contact arrangements.

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The necessity to educate all of society about the concept of modern baby adoption needs to begin at secondary school level.
National Curriculum Guidelines for Key Stage 4 in the area of Personal Health and Social Education states :

  • Students should develop their ability to weigh up alternative courses of action for health and well being.
  • Students should be taught to consider social and moral dilemmas, for example young parenthood.
  • Students should think about the alternatives and long and short-term consequences when making decisions.
  • Students should be aware about health risks of early sexual activity, pregnancy, how different forms of contraception work and where to get advice in order to inform future choices.

ASIST believes baby adoption fits in well here.

At a local comprehensive school we asked students about their knowledge and understanding of baby adoption. We discovered they had little to no knowledge about baby adoption and any they did have was gleamed through soaps and TV which was usually negative and not surprisingly they too were very negative about it, thinking it was a really cruel thing to do and much better to have an abortion.
So we then went on to develop a small education package for this age group. Every year ASIST has been invited back to that same secondary school to do year 10 tutorials and form part of the schools sex education policy which parents are informed about.
The Head teacher who has observed our sessions said he wished he had been aware of this option earlier in his career as he could think of former pupils who didn't want an abortion and weren't in a position to parent and for whom he felt adoption would have been a suitable alternative.
ASIST would like to see Adoption as part of the PSHE area of the National Curriculum.

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Pregnancy Counselling

It is important that counsellors themselves are aware of this as an option and how it can be done today as counsellors themselves can have negative views of baby adoption. We were also aware that when adoption was mentioned as an option by a counsellor it is often greeted with the response, “I couldn't possibly do that!” An understanding of what lies behind such an initial reaction is required and often this highlights people's perceptions of baby adoption as mentioned earlier. So thorough and up to date training of pregnancy counsellors is important.

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Adoption Agencies

Historically baby adoption services were often provided by the voluntary sector such as the Catholic Children's Society, C of E Children's Society, and NCH, Barnardo's.
With the sharp decline in babies placed for adoption and this being the one area of their work not eligible for government funding, many smaller agencies closed and the larger ones reduced in size and changed the focus of their work.

So begins a vicious cycle, there are hardly any babies available for adoption, therefore the service is withdrawn or drastically reduced consequently when a woman might want to consider adoption, the service is not always available for her, resulting in even fewer babies being placed for adoption and those that are relinquished for adoption sometimes drifting in the care system.

It is widely recognised that social workers carry heavy work loads and a women coming to talk about adoption when she may or may not place her baby for adoption is a low priority when social workers are already stretched dealing with at risk and vulnerable children in the care system.

It needs to be acknowledged that a woman with an unplanned pregnancy who wishes to place her baby for adoption is a different process to children being adopted from the care system.

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Lack of Funding

With the demise of the voluntary sector in adoption work due to a lack of funding, in some areas of the country it is only the local social services department which is able to do adoptions. This lack of choice worries some relinquishing mothers who fear their baby will be lost in the care system. With fewer and fewer women wishing to place babies for adoption there is not always the experience or expertise amongst social workers to deal positively with a pregnant woman contemplating adoption.

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Specialist Requirements of Baby Adoption

Much of the current legislation focuses on the adoption of children from the care system and this can be in conflict with the best interests of baby adoption. For example the necessity to always consult with the wider family and the birth father's family (with whom she may or may not be in relationship) to see if they could parent the child even if this is against the wishes of the birth mother.
This can appear to have come full circle back to the 50s and 60s when once the baby was born the birth mother no longer had any control as to what happened to her baby. Surely in the 21st Century that shouldn''t be the same today.

Legislation for baby adoption needs to recognise that a woman with an unplanned pregnancy may be choosing to place her baby for adoption.

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Adoption Support In Society Today

Contact in Confidence: 07594973550
or email:

Registered Charity No. 1088203
Registered Office: 11 High Street, Dulverton, Somerset. TA22 9BH
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