Authored article

Michael Gove article in the 'Daily Mail' on adoption

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Michael Gove describes his experience of being adopted in an article in the 'Daily Mail'.

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

You could say I’ve lived a lie all my life.

One in which my wife and the Prime Minister are complicit. They call me Michael and apologise for my appalling manners by explaining I’m a dour Aberdonian.

They excuse my waist-busting appetite, saying my father was a fish merchant and that’s why I’m a gannet.

The deception doesn’t stop with them. Michael is the name on my passport, bank card and driving licence.

But if I’m honest, it is an assumed identity. I was not born Michael, but Graeme.

I call Aberdeen my home, but that’s not where I’m from. And the man who brought me up was, indeed, in the fish trade, but he’s not the man who fathered me. I have no idea who that is.

I was born to a single mother in an Edinburgh hospital ward in 1967 and then taken into care. After 4 months, I was adopted by a childless couple, into whose home I arrived just before Christmas.

That couple, whom to this day I call Mum and Dad, gave me the stable and loving family life that allowed me to enjoy amazing opportunities – to go to university, work in Fleet Street and Parliament and become a father.

Four years after adopting me, they adopted the baby who was to become my sister. A beautiful girl who cried far less and slept much better than I had when I arrived.

She was with us for only a few months before it was discovered she was profoundly deaf. She had total hearing loss in one ear and only 3% hearing in the other.

My mum and dad hadn’t bargained for life as parents of a disabled child, but they coped with my sister’s deafness as they coped with everything in life: with calmness, kindness and love.

As a result of the love they invested, my sister is happily married to a fantastic husband and has 3 beautiful children.

My sister and I know our lives could have been different – radically, unthinkably, irretrievably different – if we had not been adopted.

We might have found ourselves in homes without love, stability or kindness. We might have found ourselves in care for much longer, without the secure attachment that being cradled in a mother’s arms brings.

We might have found ourselves in an environment where the man of the house was absent or ever-changing, or where the only male role models were those we glimpsed on the TV.

But the decision made by one couple transformed our lives. And it has meant we’ve been able to bring up our own children conscious of how terribly precious, and potentially fragile, the security of family life can be.

Instead of carrying a legacy of pain, loss and uncertainty into adult life, with the risk of passing that on to our sons and daughters, we’ve been given nothing but happy memories of our childhoods and, therefore, a determination to guarantee the same for our own children.

One of the sharpest memories of my childhood is how my mother explained to me what adoption meant. I can’t remember how old I was, but I suspect it was when I was 5, when my sister arrived.

But what I do remember – with perfect clarity after 4 decades – are the precise words she used: ‘You’re different from other children because we chose you. You didn’t grow under my heart, you grew in it.’

Writing those words, I realise they can read like something from a soap opera script or slushy pulp fiction. But those words meant, and still mean, all the world to me.

I was given the most precious gifts any child can have – unconditional love, stability, security – by parents who had gone out of their way, who’d had their lives intimately scrutinised, who’d jumped willingly and uncomplainingly through bureaucratic hoops just to make my life whole.

I love my parents in the way most children would: for having been there at every point in my youth and childhood, ready to pick me up when I fell and support me when I stumbled.

I love them for having made sacrifices for my education, for doing without foreign holidays, a new car or the conservatory they’d dreamed of so I could be given every opportunity.

But I also admire them for taking a huge risk – for betting on me when I was just 4-months-old and gambling that the massive investment in time and money they were about to make would be worth it.

They were staking their future happiness on someone who was not flesh and blood. Indeed, someone who was an unknown genetic cocktail, whose first and formative weeks had been wrenchingly disorientating.

For that I can never, ever, adequately repay them. Whatever I contribute or achieve, it can’t match what they invested in me.

And it’s because I know what an amazing thing it is to be an adoptive parent, and how much being brought up in the right home meant for my life, that I want more children to have the opportunities I enjoyed.

But one of the tragedies of our times is that while the number of children who need love, stability and security is higher than ever, finding them an adoptive family has become more difficult than ever.

That’s not because there is any shortage of men and women who want to give disadvantaged children a secure family life. It’s because we have inherited a system that embodies so many wrong values and desperately needs reform.

Children in dysfunctional homes at risk of abuse are kept in danger for too long because politically correct rules mean we won’t challenge unfit parents.

When children at risk are rescued, they are left in temporary care for months on end. Judges who have enjoyed all the advantages of a privileged upbringing then take for ever to decide the fate of the most disadvantaged children in the country.

And adults who long to invest love and care in children who have been starved of affection all their lives are denied the chance to become adoptive parents for trivial reasons.

So generous-hearted adults who smoke, are overweight or have a certain skin colour aren’t allowed to give children a second chance in their own families - while feckless and capricious individuals who may be bringing up children in homes scarred by violence, abuse and neglect are allowed to keep children imprisoned in squalor and condemned to misery.

I was placed with a loving family within 4 months of being put up for adoption. For desperate children now, it can take more than 2 years.

When I was adopted, my dad had a 20-a-day Peter Stuyvesant habit and my mum had nothing in common with the woman who gave birth to me. Neither would have been allowed to adopt me today and I would have been denied the most wonderful parents in the world.

That knowledge means I’m determined to use the position I have in the coalition government to help children who most need rescuing.

One important step towards this will be implementing the directions of the Family Justice Review, published this week, which said social workers and courts will have to complete all care cases in 6 months – reducing the shocking delays that are leaving children languishing in care for far longer than necessary.

I am also working to change the rules that govern when children can be taken out of abusive homes. I’ve insisted we publish the reviews into child deaths and abuse, which the last government kept secret, so we can see just how bad our child protection system has been.

Children such as Baby P have been left in homes where casual violence is a more regular ritual than family breakfast because we’ve been scared to tell adults their behaviour is a disgrace and their babies will flourish only if they’re rescued from a cycle of abuse.

I know there will be some who will accuse us of baby-snatching. But when you read, as I have, of what the amoral residents of the most broken parts of Britain do to their children then no one with a conscience would want us to do anything other than snatch these innocents away from this suffering.

Of course, if these children then spend the next few months, or years, in a legal limbo with no single person to love and cherish them, then there is a real risk the wounds of their earliest days will never heal.

Children who do spend years in care have, in the past, been the young people least likely to succeed in school, at work and in adult life.

But children who are adopted and go on to enjoy a secure family life are overwhelmingly likely to flourish.

This is why it is so tragic that, after local authorities acknowledge they should be adopted, so many children languish in care for months.

I’ve changed the rules so more parents can adopt more quickly. I’ve said councils shouldn’t put political correctness before principled compassion.

They mustn’t wait for ‘perfect’ parents, with the right racial background, before placing a child for adoption.

They mustn’t set impossible rules on smoking, social class, sexuality or even, as has been the case in the past, the number of pets before accepting adoptive parents. We can’t afford to ration love.

The Prime Minister has given our crusade his backing, calling for a culture change in society’s attitude towards adoption and insisting that agencies should abandon a tick-box mentality towards potential parents.

He’s made it clear that local authorities that take too long to put up children for adoption will be identified and, if they don’t improve, we’ll get in others to speed things up. And that could mean the worst councils having their powers taken over by the best.

But the real problem doesn’t lie with the councils or the social workers they employ. In many cases, social workers are the unsung heroes of the adoption process, selfless professionals who care deeply about children at risk. The real culprits are, all too often, the judges who rule on care proceedings.

They can take for ever to make decisions and the worst won’t trust the word of committed social workers who want children to be rescued from danger and adopted quickly.

The leisurely timetables of the courts, with late starts, early finishes and long holidays takes precedence over the needs of disadvantaged children.

Judges are rarely held to account for the inefficiencies of their courts, they aren’t held up to public scrutiny for their failures and there’s no penalty for those whose leisurely procrastination deprives children of a loving home.

The review of the family courts published this week – which recommends a reduction of judges’ powers of scrutiny in care cases – gives us a chance to change things. But there are few trades unions in England as powerful as the legal establishment.

I hope any of you reading this who think they could give a child in need a loving home will come forward.

The sad reality of life for so many of our children, born into homes ruled by drug abuse, domestic violence or drunken neglect, means we need far more adoptive parents.

Adopting means opening your home, and heart, to a life you’ve never known. But there is nothing as richly rewarding as being an adoptive parent.

It means knowing there is someone in the world who will wake up every morning for ever in your debt.

Published 7 November 2011