The Blog

Will taking more children away from their parents prevent future riots?

How do we stop the riots from happening again? The Government has decided that part of the solution is for social services to take children away from bad parents and put them up for adoption.

How do we stop the riots from happening again? The Government has decided that part of the solution is for social services to take children away from bad parents and put them up for adoption.

Plans to increase the number of adoptions came up in a speech delivered by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, as he warned that the looters who ran riot over the summer were part of an "educational underclass" that had been failed by schools.

News coverage of his comments has focused on promises to put teachers back in charge of the classroom, for example by allowing them to impose detention without providing 24 hours notice.

But increasing the number of adoptions was also a key theme.

You or I may think that social services should take children away from their natural parents when there is evidence of abuse - for example, if a child is being beaten or starved, whether out of malice or because a parent simply isn't capable of raising a family.

But Mr Gove seems to believe that simply being a bad parent - failing to teach a young child how to communicate, how to respect authority, how to use a lavatory and even failing to teach them table manners - may be grounds for having the child adopted.

Consider this section of his speech. He said: "Teachers report to me that a growing number of children cannot form letters or even hold a pencil. Many cannot sit and listen. Many can scarcely communicate orally, let alone frame a question. Many cannot use a knife and fork. Many cannot even go to the lavatory properly. Some express their frustration through displays of inarticulate rage.

"More than 1,200 children aged seven or under have been permanently excluded from their primary schools for violence or other disruptive activity in the last five years. A further 53,000 children aged seven or under were suspended for similar behaviour.

"If children arrive in school unable to sit, listen and learn and then disrupt the learning of others then lives begin already blighted.

"Which is why we are intervening.

"It's why we are increasing the number of health visitors to give parents good advice at the start of their child's life and spot danger signs.

"It's why we are overhauling the adoption process to get children out of the most dysfunctional homes where their futures are at risk and into the arms of loving adoptive parents."

It sounds to me as if Mr Gove is describing not abusive parents but simply bad ones.

Perhaps he's right and the children of such parents would have more chance of succeeding in life if they were adopted by someone else.

But - while children must clearly be protected from any parent that harms or abuses them - do we want the state to put children up for adoption simply because their parent is a lousy one? Should it be making that sort of judgment about parents?

It's worth remembering that these decisions are made in Family Courts in secret, and parents who face losing their children can barred even from seeking advice from MPs or independent solicitors, on the grounds that any publicity could damage the welfare of the child.

The Education Secretary is undoubtedly influenced by the fact the he himself was adopted, and benefited from a loving and supportive family.

He said in the same speech: "I was born to a single parent, never knew my biological father and spent my first few months in care.

"Thanks to the love of my adoptive mother and father, and the education I enjoyed, I was given amazing opportunities. So I know just how much the right parenting, the right values at home, and the right sort of school matter in determining a child's fate."