One of the most common pieces of “helpful” advice you’ll hear if you are open about experiencing fertility problems is that you should consider adoption instead, “Why don’t you just adopt instead?” people will ask. They nearly always use the “just”, as if it’s some instant route to parenthood which you are wilfully ignoring. This often comes tinged with the suggestion that there is an inherent selfishness in wanting to have your own child rather than someone else’s – if you are going to need IVF to do it. You don’t hear the same people suggesting that those who can conceive without any problems and who have thee or four or five children of their own were selfish and should have considered adoption instead, but that’s another matter…
On Friday, Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), added fuel to the fire by suggesting that the growing success of IVF is responsible for the drop in potential adoptive parents, claiming that now few people will consider adoption as an option. Apparently In 1970s, there were 12,000 children were adopted in Britain every year but in 2017 there were just 4,350 adoptions. At the same time, there is a growing number of children in care.
It always strikes me as odd that when it comes to discussion about infertility and adoption, people seem to see adoption as some kind of solution for fertility problems. In fact, adoption should be about finding the best possible family for a vulnerable child rather than offering some kind of quick fix solution for a couple with fertility problems. Adoptive parents need to have a resilience and dedication to adoption that makes them very special people. Having a fertility problem doesn’t automatically give you those qualities. In response to Anthony Douglas’s suggestions, the head of one adoption charity said it seemed to be a “misunderstanding of the very essence of adoption”.
In 1978, we were in a very different place, and not just because IVF wasn’t around. For a start, there were far more newborn babies without siblings who needed adoptive families. Now it is very rare to be able to adopt a newborn, and in 2012 there were only 76 babies adopted so very few parents will be caring for an adopted child from the start of his or her life. More than three quarters of children waiting to be adopted are over 2, and they have often experienced many difficulties and challenges in their lives. More than 60% are in sibling groups so parents would not be adopting one child but two or more. Around a third of the children needing adoptive parents are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The other huge issue around adoption is the lack of support which many adoptive parents report, and they often feel they are unprepared for the challenges adoption can bring. A survey by the charity Adoption UK last year found that more than a quarter of families reported being “in crisis” and two thirds of respondents said their child had displayed aggressive behaviour towards them. At the time, the chief executive of Adoption UK, Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, said “We’re talking about trauma-fuelled violence from children who will have witnessed the unthinkable in their early lives. Adoption is not a silver-bullet – these children’s problems don’t just disappear overnight. Children who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect have experienced the world being an unsafe and dangerous place. The child’s violent behaviour reveals extreme distress and a need to feel safe and protected. These children need particular parenting techniques and access to therapy to overcome early childhood trauma, and they may reject any attempts at parental affection or management of their behaviour.”
There may be some people with fertility problems who are excellent adoptive parents, but anyone with any experience of adoption will know all too well that pairing up traumatised young people with adults scarred by infertility is not a one-size-fits-all solution to either problem.