Matt the Obscure

My seven-year-old son recently asked a question I had dreaded ever since he was born. He asked my mum, “What was Daddy like when he was my age?” The seemingly innocent question set my heart racing like a moped, as my mum was not my mum when I was seven years old. Instead, I grew up in the care system and was shipped around children’s homes before arriving on her doorstep. Yet she handled this situation with the ease of a well-versed master. Afterwards, I asked how it was that the question didn’t faze her. She replied, “I have to be flexible and resilient every day of the week being a freelancer. You just get used to it.” This got me thinking; maybe freelancers make the best adoptive parents. 

According to government statistics, since its peak in 2015, adoption rates have free fallen, with the numbers almost halving from 5,360 to 2,870 per year. Despite a continuing rise of children available to be adopted. Therefore, prompting the discussion of how we can make it easier to adopt in the UK. Are there ways to make adoption more attractive? 

When adoption agencies review potential adopters, they assess these essential qualities: flexibility, empathy, resilience, willingness to learn, open-mindedness, and motivation. Yet, by coincidence, these are the same attributes that make for successful freelancers. At the end of 2021, there were over 4.1 million self-employed workers in the UK. Given the ideal match, logic would suggest some financial support would be in place to entice such a large group. But unfortunately, the seemingly most qualified potential adopters are not eligible for Statutory Adoption Leave and Statutory Adoption Pay. 

In 2016, an independent review led by Julie Deane OBE recommended that the government introduce an ‘Adoption Allowance’ for freelance adopters, mirroring SAP for employed adopters. Deane found that “In line with Statutory Adoption Pay, I recommend that this should also be enhanced to 90% of earnings in the first six weeks – bringing ‘Adoption Allowance’ in line with Statutory Adoption Pay… The remaining 33 weeks of ‘Adoption Allowance’ should be paid at the lower of the statutory flat rate or 90% of earnings (in the case of low earners).”

What would the cost of SAP be for a freelancer? Based on the average freelancer salary, the first six weeks would cost £6,759.66 and £5,015.01 for the remaining 33 weeks. In total, this would be £11,774.67. Yes, a little more than employed workers, but still a tiny sum compared to the alternatives. 

What happens when a child is not adopted? They are tipped into the care system, where the sums take off as a Saturn V. Foster care placements cost on average £33,000 per year, and for those like me in children’s homes, the cost is more than £200,000 per year. These figures do not consider additional amounts due to the over-representation of care leavers who enter the criminal justice system, making up 27% of the prison population, costing £44,600 per placement per year. I certainly would’ve contributed to this statistic if it wasn’t for my mum’s flexible, open, and resilient nature. 

Are the government ready to pivot? Earlier this month, the government, as part of its response to the MacAlister report into children’s social care, opened a consultation which looks into expanding leave and entitlements for kinship care. Surely it would also make sense to patch the gaping hole in the net simultaneously, as recommended by the APPG for Adoption & Permanence last year.  

The trajectory of my life chances shifted because of my mum’s flexibility, empathy, resilience, willingness to learn, open-mindedness, and drive. It allowed me to end the cycle of dysfunction for my family. In 2011, Michael Gove described being an adoptive parent as having ‘someone … who will wake up every morning forever in your debt’. I’m not the someone in my mum’s debt. It’s society. The amount that SAP pays will not determine whether a parent will want to adopt, but it’s a token of our appreciation for those who decide to take the challenge. Freelancers have the flexibility of hours that others don’t, and also bring the other qualities to the table that make their adoptions more likely to be successful.