Jim Richards argues that the government’s record on adoption is
less than impressive.
As we move rapidly towards a general election it is opportune to
take stock of this government’s record on adoption. To date it has
had an almost universally good press. In my view this is
Words I wrote in 1994 on the then health secretary Virginia
Bottomley’s white paper can be quoted with almost equal relevance
to the current white paper: “It is a great disappointment. It fails
on what it contains, on what it leaves out and its total lack of
timetable for implementation.”
A few examples will illustrate the applicability of this quote.
For instance, although looked-after children placed for adoption
will have a key worker, this does not seem to apply to other
categories of adopted children such as traumatised children adopted
from overseas and emotionally disturbed children adopted within a
There is an absence of any proposals on freeing or placement
orders. Moreover, the proposals on the key alternative to adoption,
special guardianship, are desperately thin. Nor is there anything
on the child’s rights to consent to or refuse adoption.
Also, the impression has been created that a bill will be
introduced this year. However, close reading of the white paper
reveals that the government will “seek legislation”, not that it is
committed to introducing a bill in 2001. Even if this scepticism is
proved wrong and a bill is presented this year, it is likely that
it will be 2003 at the earliest before it is fully implemented.
Most worryingly, the white paper does not form the basis for
comprehensive legislation. In part, this is because the government
early on in its life embarked upon a piecemeal approach with its
Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999. The government was pushed
into this by an inherited failure of the previous Conservative
administration to ratify the Hague Convention on Intercountry
However, nearly two years after it received Royal Assent only
one section of the act has been put into operation. This failure is
significant. If the section relating to the requirement for full
clearance before bringing children into the country from abroad had
been implemented, then the criminal penalties for flouting this may
have deterred Alan and Judith Kilshaw from bringing the “internet
twins” here from the USA.
With the prospect of two pieces of legislation dealing with
adoption in the offing, they will have to be carefully integrated.
Without this, there will be the danger of a two-tier system of
adoption, one for children adopted within the UK, the other for
children from overseas. Any recognition of this problem is absent
from the white paper.
The government therefore faces the electorate with an
unimplemented act dealing with overseas adoption, a white paper
that tells us little about key legislative issues for accommodated
children who are to be adopted, and a knee-jerk response to an
overseas adoption scandal indicating that the 1999 act may be
implemented nearly two years after it was approved by
Jim Richards is director of the Catholic Children’s