Adoption rates were a prime topic of discussion in the newpapers today, with many including The Guardian, The Independent, and The Telegraph taking up the issue, with the fact that last year only 60 babies were adopted grabbing the headlines. The Telegraph pointed out that there has been a massive decrease in the number of children under the age of one being adopted since the 1970s, when 4,000 found places.
Full Fact decided to take a closer look at the historical trend of adoption in England and Wales.
The Telegraph was right in saying that there were significantly higher adoption rates in the 1970s.
According to the ONS (see ‘Historic adoption tables’) in 1974 22,502 children were adopted. Of these, 5,172 were under the age of one. Today these figures are 3,052 and 60 respectively.
As we can see from the graphs below, not only has there been a steady decrease in the total number of adoptions, but there has been a decrease in adoptions of children under the age of one as a percentage of the total.
Although there was a slight increase in total adoptions in the early 2000s, we are now witnessing a return to a decline in numbers.
The 2008 Social Trends Family and Houses report helps explain why there has been this steady decrease in adoption rates, pointing out that “increased use of contraception, new abortion laws and changed attitudes to motherhood had a negative impact on the number of children available for adoption.”
It also puts forward the importance of Children Act 1975, which required that courts dealing with the children of divorced parents dismiss applications for adoptions if a legal custody order would be in the best interests of the child.
To get a different perspective on the subject we talked to a representative from Barnardos about the reasons behind this downward historical trend. Their representative argued that one of the primary reasons behind the steady decrease in adoption rates, and the adoption of babies in particular, can be put down to the changing reasons for a child becoming available for adoption.
The stigma of single mothers and illegitimate children in previous years could also have meant that it was more likely for a children from certain backgrounds to be given up for adoption at a very early age, the spokesperson also claimed.
Today, the reasons behind a child being placed in care tend to be much more complicated, with issues such as abuse and neglect being more likely to be the cause. Barnardos argued that as a result, the birth-families of these children are likely to be more involved in the process, which tends to make the issue more complicated and drawn out.
It would seem that social and cultural issues remain one of the most important factors behind adoption rates. The steadiness of the decline in overall adoption rates would appear too long term to be attributed solely to a single government or policy.
*The Guardian’s Reality Check blog has collected a range of opinions from groups invovled with adoption, which might offer further insight into the reasons behind falling rates.