2. Permanence, Principles and Consulatation
2.1 The Group has kept the needs of the child at the centre of its work, in particular a child's need for security, stability and permanence. The Group drew up a set of principles to guide its work based on this need for permanence. The Group also consulted widely, and specifically carried out a focused consultation with children and young people with experience of the care system to determine what was important to them and what improvements they would like to see.
2.2 The Group's aim has been to develop a framework to provide permanence for children who, for whatever reason, cannot be brought up by their birth families. The importance of permanence to children can only be appreciated by looking at it from a child's point of view, although it is hard to describe this adequately. The concept of belonging can be helpful as most adults are aware of situations in which they feel that they belong, and also the discomfort that can be caused if they feel they do not belong.
2.3 For children, a sense of belonging - of being cared for and cared about - is fundamental to their healthy emotional and physical development. However, a sense of belonging - for example being part of a family - is not something that can be established by telling a child that they are now part of a new family, or because they are the subject of a particular legal order. The feeling of permanence comes from the actions and behaviour of those adults who care for the child. For most children their world is what they experience on a day-by-day basis. Daily care routines, familiar meals on set days, planning for holidays, celebrating birthdays all help a child develop both a sense of self-esteem and well being in the present, and a sense of hope and optimism for the future.
2.4 It is vital therefore that the adult(s) who are parenting a child on a day-to-day basis are also able to plan for a child, be it for next week, next month, next birthday, or the next holiday. The capacity of adults to offer children this continuity and predictability can be impaired by their own personal circumstances, such as drug or alcohol misuse or mental health problems. For those who care for children within public care, there is the added dimension of sharing decision making with a range of other people, which can lead to differences in view and delays in taking action, which in turn impacts on children who need predictability and consistency.
2.5 A number of factors can provoke huge anxiety and uncertainty amongst children in public care:
- how long they might live in their current home?
- who will buy them birthday presents?
- will they be going back to the same school in August?
- why are different adults coming to talk to them and their carers?
- why can't they go to sleepover at their friends?
- why do their carers sometimes look anxious, or talk about what will happen at the next meeting, or refer to "your next family"?
2.6 This profound sense of unpredictability and uncertainty is not reduced by sharing information about future plans with the child, or by allowing the child to participate in decision making. Having your life planned and scrutinised by a wide range of adults is not a normal experience. Children do not want to be different from their peers in this as in other areas of life. The best solution is therefore for children to be brought up within family situations in which the adults can give children clear messages that they both belong and will continue to be part of that family, and that known and trusted parents are "in charge". Just like other children:
Now I have been adopted I feel safe. I can stay with my family for as long as I please and that will be for as long as I live.
Watching them close the book, really shutting it… knowing that nothing else was going to happen. It was just going to be an ordinary life from now on.
These quotes from Adopted Children Speaking highlight the importance of a sense of belonging for the children, a sense of belonging that the adults in their families have been able to confer on the children. 1 These children are no longer concerned about how long they will stay in the family, or what their "next family" might be like. They are now thinking about how they are going to grow up in their new home. Just like other children.
2.7 The Group concludes that the legal system should give
security to children and give their adult carers the opportunity to
pass on to the children these messages of belonging. The aim should
be to allow the child to develop
a sense of permanence:
- a developing feeling of 'belonging' to someone who is parenting them day-by-day.
- the expectation of continuing stability in the placement.
- a feeling of security in being loved and valued both for themselves and as a permanent member of the family.
- a growing sense of mutual obligations between the child and parent/s as the child moved towards adulthood.
- continuity with the ethnicity, religion, language and culture of their birth family.
- acknowledgement and a positive acceptance of their birth family and history, with ongoing contact where appropriate.
- becoming a full member of an extended family and part of a wider long-term network of friends and family.
- growing confidence in being able to cope with the wider world, including moving on to independence or supported accommodation only when chosen by the young person.
2.8 Based on this understanding of permanence, the Group formulated and agreed a set of principles to inform its work. These were:
1. Children benefit from being brought up in families by a parent or parents committed to them in parent/child relationships.
2. Children generally benefit when the three "roles" of birth parent, person with daily care and person with legal responsibility are combined in the same person.
3. Those children who cannot be safely brought up by their birth parents should generally be brought up by substitute parents.
4. Children generally require stability, predictability, and the opportunity to form secure attachments, in order to develop into healthy adults.
5. There must be respect for the private and family lives and other fundamental rights of children, birth parents and substitute parents.
6. The interests of children, birth parents and substitute parents should, where possible, be held in balance, albeit the welfare of children is the paramount consideration.
7. The principles should apply that the welfare of children throughout life is the paramount consideration, the children's views should be taken into account and any interventions should be the least intrusive to achieve the necessary objective.
8. Any decision in relation to children should respect their racial origin, religious persuasion and cultural and linguistic background.
9. A framework is required whereby individual solutions can be found for individual children.
10. Decisions relating to children should be clear, consistent and taken within a timescale which meets children's needs. Prolonged uncertainty is detrimental to children.
11. Adoption is an appropriate solution for some children, but modifications may be required to enable it to better achieve the above objectives.
2.9 The Group consulted widely in drawing up its recommendations. Written responses were invited to the questions in Choices for Children, the discussion paper on legal issues produced by the Group's independent legal consultant and published in 2003. 2 A summary of the responses can be found on the Scottish Executive website. 3 The Group also commissioned Save the Children to consult young people who had experience of fostering and adoption. The report on this work is reproduced in full in the annexes. 4
2.10 The responses to these consultation exercises reinforced the principles established by the Group. The findings from consultation with the young people illustrate this point:
- all of the young people who were adopted and three quarters of young people who had lived in foster care indicated that they liked living in a family situation and felt part of the family. The relationships between young people and their adoptive parents or foster carers were important. This provided a basis for dealing with everyday situations as well as long-term security. Many young people also spoke of the importance of living with other children.
- living in safe environments and the relationships they have with their adoptive or foster families enabled young people to feel safe.
- many young people, adopted and in foster care, felt positive about their future. Young people spoke about the importance of their relationships with their adoptive parents or their foster carers in providing this security. For young people in foster care this feeling of security lessened as their placement came to an end. A number of young people identified continuing relationships with their carers after they had moved to live independently as important to them.
- the importance of providing young people with supportive and stable environments within which they can explore their identity was evident in young people's accounts.
- many young people thought that adoption provided more stability, security and was permanent. Young people felt that these factors were important in enabling close family relationships.
2.11 Further reference is made to these principles and views from consultation at appropriate parts of the report.