He had come back to the agency to find out more about the circumstances of his adoption and to consider whether he should try and make contact with his birth family. This sounds very dramatic, but for a significant number of children who are adopted, the consequences of remaining within their birth family could be catastrophic.
Children are not removed from their family of origin unless the prospects of them remaining there will cause significant harm. Such harm could be physical, moral and always psychological and emotional. Most of the people who cannot cope with the demands of parenting a child safely have experienced childhoods themselves that were neglectful.
The ‘model’ of parenting they experienced as children was not good. When children have neglectful or abusive childhoods, the psychological effects often mean they struggle to manage loving interpersonal relationships and are vulnerable to drug or alcohol misuse and other destructive behaviours.
A social worker who works with vulnerable parents must try to help them to overcome the impact of their adverse childhood experiences. Their job is further complicated by the overriding responsibility to protect children from the risk of harm or abuse. When every option to support vulnerable families has been exhausted, then it may be necessary for a child to be removed from this unsafe environment and placed in foster care.
Once the child has been removed from a risky and harmful environment, the focus is still on trying to create the circumstances that might allow the child to return safely to their birth home. For a small, but significant, number of children, this will not be possible.
All children need a sense of permanence in their lives and in their relationships with adult care givers. It is widely acknowledged if it is not possible for children to be raised in a loving and safe birth family, the best alternative family option is provided by adoption. This is because a child who feels loved and nurtured unconditionally will have the best chance of not only coping with the challenges life will present, but is much more likely to achieve their potential in education and employment. Most importantly they will be better equipped to give and receive love in relationships with others.
Children whose needs were not met at the earliest stage of their lives will be left with developmental deficits that will affect how they behave as they grow. The comprehensive training and assessment that is provided by social workers in our Edinburgh and Aberdeen offices gives prospective adopters insight into how they can be helped.
St Andrew’s Children’s Society is celebrating its centenary year and our mission to provide loving and safe homes for the children that need them continues. Adoption Week Scotland 2022, which ran from Monday to Friday, reminds us of that need.
We hope people will think about whether they could provide the kind of nurturing home environment that children need to thrive. The current financial pressures and uncertainties will undoubtedly make people think twice about embarking on such a life changing course of action, but adopting a child can bring great rewards and the sense of achievement that a child’s life may well be ‘saved’ by your care.
- Stephen Small is the chief executive of the St Andrew's Children's Society