'Stop trying to fix families we can't fix': Barnardo's head's 'heretic' call for bad parents to lose their children

By Steve Doughty

September 7, 2009 / dailymail.co.uk

The children of bad parents should be taken away as babies and offered for adoption, the head of a leading charity said yesterday.

Barnardo's chief Martin Narey said it is impossible to fix some families that are 'broken'.

He acknowledged that many in the social work establishment will see his views as 'illiberal heresy'.

Mr Narey's call revives the push for more adoptions launched by Tony Blair in his early years in power.

But his words were quickly dismissed by Children's Secretary Ed Balls, who said that rather than taking children away, their families should be helped by 'tough intervention projects'.

Mr Narey, 54, a former head of the prison service, spoke out in the aftermath of the shocking attack in Doncaster by two young brothers who came from a troubled home.

The boys, aged ten and 11, launched a vicious assault on two other boys, leaving one for dead and the other covered in blood.

The brothers were brought up by parents who gave them cannabis to keep them quiet and told them to scavenge for food from supermarket skips.

Mr Narey said in an interview with the Observer newspaper: 'We can't keep trying to fix families that are completely broken.'


He added: 'If you can take a baby very young and get them quickly into a permanent adoptive home, then we know that is where we have success.

'That's a view that is seen as a heresy among social services, where the thinking is that if someone, a parent, has failed, they deserve another chance.

'My own view is that we just need to take more children into care if we really want to put the interests of the child first.'

He said: 'It sounds terrible, but I think we try too hard with birth parents. I have seen children sent back to homes that I certainly would not have sent them back to.'

In the 1970s more than 20,000 children a year were adopted out of state care. But numbers fell as benefits for single parents increased and the stigma against single mothers disappeared.

New Labour tried to revive adoption after Tony Blair won power in 1997. It decided the evidence showed adoption was better for the 60,000 children stuck in the state care system than life in children's homes or with rapidly-changing sets of foster parents.

But the prevailing view was summed up by then social services chief Moira Gibb, who said in 1998 that society 'has decided it no longer wants to see babies farmed out to middle class mothers'.

Mr Blair's 2002 Adoption Act, which notably allowed gay couples to adopt, failed to have the desired effect. The figure of 3,800 children adopted from state care in 2004 fell to 3,200 by last year.

Mr Balls dismissed Mr Narey's plea yesterday. 'I don't think the right thing to do instinctively and quickly is just to take children and put them into care,' he said on Sky News Sunday Live. 'I think we

should try first of all to see if we can get to the root of what's gone wrong.

'In the case of the boys in Doncaster, that was a vile crime, it was a horrific crime.

'It is good that these are rare cases, they don't happen very often at all, but when they do we are all appalled.'

He added: 'In that kind of case, we need to intervene and engage, but I don't think the right thing to do in these cases is immediately to put children into care.

'The right thing to do is to say, "Can we sort out the problems in that family?" '

Mr Balls called for more intensive intervention projects. Such projects are based on trials carried out in Dundee in Scotland which proved that some families could be helped at very high cost - £50,000 for each successful family - but that no impression was made on children in half of the families targeted.

The average age at which a child was adopted last year was four. Only one in 20 children taken into state care each year is under 12 months.

Patricia Morgan, a researcher and author on families and adoption, said: 'It has been clear for many years that adoption is highly successful and relatively cheap.

'But each time the Government has tried to act to get more adoptions, the effort has been buried, with the social work establishment and its supporters talking about poor mothers being stigmatised and the need for more resources to help the deprived.'

Last year research carried out at the University of East Anglia found that one child a week is dying at the hands of its family and a major cause is the reluctance of social workers to remove them from their homes.

Social workers fail to take enough account of parental violence, mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse, it said.

However, research has backed concerns first highlighted by the Daily Mail that some social workers may be too quick to take children from parents with learning difficulties who are otherwise good mothers and fathers.

There have also been worries that social workers remove children from families to meet Whitehall adoption targets.


John Hemming's response

John Hemming, MP and Chairman of Justice for Families, posted a blog-piece, titled, "Martin Narey is wrong".  Below is an excerpt.

"The government have refused to attempt to find out how many adoptions result in children returning to care. It is quite clear that Reactive Attachment Disorder affects a number of children taken into care at an early age and then adopted at or around 2-3 years old. This often results in a disrupted adoption and a child returning to care with additional psychological trauma.

"There are statistics about the numbers of failed adoptions where the adoption fails in the same local authority as it occurs, but this is only a small part of the story. Channel 4 recently identified that the number of failed adoptions is increasing. Martin Narey, however, repeats the mantra "More adoptions, More adoptions".

"Our policy making really should be evidence based. For that we need the research. That is where the government are failing.

"Martin Narey should not look at adoption as a solution for the chidlren in Edlington. It is not in any way clear that the outcome for children aged 10
and 11 could be predicted reliably before they were born. The question about Edlington is why there was no response at an earlier age of 5 or 6.
I think that arises from the concentration on babies and adoption that the system now has. We need to change direction rather than go further in a direction that is clearly failing."          


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