The adoption party was a great success – but what about children like Scott, Connor and David who weren't picked?
Would you adopt a six-year-old boy? Almost certainly not. There are about 7,000 children waiting to be adopted in the UK and the hardest of these to place are boys aged six and over. Children under two and girls are at a premium, while older boys are the also-rans. If that makes it sound like there's a competitive free market in children, then that's because there is.
So, to even up the odds a little for the harder-to-sell kids, adoption agencies have been piloting a scheme, pioneered in the US, in which couples looking to adopt and children on the adoption register are brought together for a party. The hope is that the couples will have their reservations about adopting an older child – or children – overcome by meeting them face to face and playing with them. Finding Mum and Dad (Channel 4) was there to record the results. It did so forensically and without judgment, and didn't make for easy viewing.
There were no villains. Parents looking to adopt have every right to choose the children they feel are right for them. They are not surrogate social workers with a duty of care to take the most vulnerable children. Nor can the adoption agencies be blamed for trying something new, as unplaced children invariably end up in care. Forty-two out of 251 children were found homes as a result of the five trial adoption parties. This was considered a success and the scheme is to be rolled out nationally.
What there was, though, was collateral damage in the shape of Scott, Connor and David, who remained unplaced after three parties. Scott had already seen other children – including his birth sister Tracy – leave his foster home to be adopted: whatever the best intentions of the organisers, how can he not have felt even more rejected when prospective parents gravitated towards other kids? Connor and David's foster mother, Katy, articulated my own thoughts. "It felt like I was being asked to sell an unwanted product." "It is a buyer's market,' a woman from the adoption agency conceded.
In any market there are going to be winners and losers. Scott, Connor and David looked very much as if they were going to end up on the losing side. Then, the cost-benefit analysis of adoption isn't easy. Do you take away children from their birth parents as early as possible, because that makes it a whole lot easier to find them adoptive parents? Or do you keep them with their birth parents as long as possible, hoping things will work out, knowing that the down side is that the children will be less likely to be adopted? And is the success of placing 42 kids who might not have found adoptive parents worth the added pain to the 200-plus children like Scott, Connor and David who don't? I'm glad it's not me who has to make these decisions.
Hidden Histories: Britain's Oldest Family Businesses (BBC4) was a much gentler ride. Too gentle, in fact. It was all quite jolly exploring the history of butchery through the family firm of Balson's of Bridport and following the proprietor, Richard, on his trawls through the local archives, though I increasingly felt the programme was of much more value to him than it was to me. My main interest wasn't how the Balson family business had survived since the reign of Henry VIII, but why. What makes a business immune to a civil war, two world wars, an industrial revolution and an internet revolution, and who knows how many family quarrels? Is it just luck? This wasn't even touched on.
More critically, one of the key components of the story was kept off screen throughout. Richard's only child, Billy, is now in his 30s and working as an accountant in London. Richard is certain that, sooner or later, Billy will jack in his job, leave London and return to Bridport to take over the family business. From Billy, there was only silence. The opportunity to consider what it might mean for a family business to come to an end and just how heavy that responsibility feels was missed.
Still, there was some good news for Richard. In the course of his research, he discovered that the business actually started two decades earlier than 1535, which the family had always believed to be the date it was established. Which means that next year, Balson's celebrates its 500th year in the same family. But for how much longer?
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image: © Channel 4