Interviews & Profiles

Prime Minister's question time

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To mark National Adoption Week we sent Stylist reader and prospective adopter Beatrice Gehr-Swain to interview David Cameron…

“It took seven heartbreaking years of unsuccessfully trying to have our own child before my husband and I made the decision to adopt. We attended our first meeting just over a year ago and the process has been long and intrusive. Although we feel like we are now well on our way to finally becoming parents, I wasn’t surprised to hear recently that only 60 babies under the age of one were adopted in the UK last year. So when Stylist asked me to quiz David Cameron on how he is tackling this terribly low number, to coincide with National Adoption Week (31 October-6 November), I jumped at the chance. There’s something surreal about walking through the black door of Number 10, but the Prime Minister swiftly put me at ease – he is clearly very passionate about the issue.”

As a father, what was your reaction to the news that last year only 60 babies under one were adopted in the UK?

It’s shocking. There are 3,360 babies under the age of one in care and the number of adoptions overall was 3,050 last year, down 20% on 2005. It is something we are failing at in this country. I want to sort that out.

One of the issues is the time it takes to get adoption cases approved by the courts…

Yes, we’ve got to make the system less bureaucratic. There is an element of political correctness too – worrying about placing black children in white families. While there isn’t a bar on integrated adoption in the UK, there is over-cultural sensitivity. The evidence is that adoption into a loving home is the best answer, so don’t hold back for cultural reasons.

Is there anything being done to help fast-track more adoption cases?

We are looking into having a tighter timeline. Judges make difficult decisions, but there is temptation to ask for yet another report rather than making the judgment. The result is that we are leaving children languishing through the court process so long that they aren’t getting adopted. Children who are adopted early tend to have successful outcomes and happy lives.

Prospective adopters often find the experience intrusive and frustrating. What can be done about this?

Every adoption service wants to know they are dealing with people they can trust, but the process seems to have got very bureaucratic. We are trying to substitute common sense, discretion and responsibility, with box-ticking, believing you can reduce risks to zero. You can’t. Judgment, responsibility and accountability are the things that matter.

Adoption is often considered a last option for prospective parents. Do you want to dispel that attitude?

Yes. Michael Gove, the secretary for education, is an example of what a successful adoption is [he was adopted as a baby]. You can see the pride his parents have in him – he is one of the most talented people I know. If you care about social mobility, family and giving people a good start in life, you have got to care about adoption.

Have you any parenting tips for me?

I’ve got lots. Lay off the sugar!

For more information on how to adopt or become a foster carer visit Interview by Beatrice Gehr-Swain, project officer at Birmingham University.

What’s your view on this issue? Perhaps you have experience of the adoption process? Share your views and thoughts with us via @StylistMagazine on Twitter or in the comments section below, or else make your voice heard and join the debate on the Department for Education’s ‘Give A Child A Home’ Facebook page.