The Adoption and Children Bill had its second reading on 26
March and was then sent to a select committee. It is improbable
that the bill would be enacted before a general election,
especially in view of the government’s commitment to engage in
widespread consultation, but they do wish to make good progress, so
that it can be introduced early in the next parliament.
The bill contains some major changes in adoption law. The
welfare of the child, throughout his life, will be the paramount
consideration of the court or adoption agency. As with the Children
Act, the court or adoption agency must at all times bear in mind
that, in general, any delay in coming to a decision is likely to
prejudice the child’s welfare.
Parental consent to adoption can be dispensed with if the
welfare of the child requires it. Taking into account human rights
case law, the court would also have to be satisfied that an
adoption order was the only order which would provide for the
future of the child, and consider what was the least intrusive type
of order sufficient to promote the child’s welfare.
The concept of placement orders is reintroduced. A placement
order is an order made by the court authorising an adoption agency
to place a child for adoption with prospective adopters. A child
may not be placed for adoption without the consent of persons with
parental responsibility, save where there is a placement order.
The bill does not address the contentious question of whether
unmarried couples should be able to make applications to adopt.
Should all adults have a human right to adopt, or is it contrary to
the welfare of children not to require a legal relationship between
The bill provides that an unmarried father will acquire parental
responsibility if he participates in the joint registration of the
birth. The bill also enables a step-parent to obtain parental
responsibility by agreement or court order, which under existing
legislation can only be obtained through a residence order.
The bill introduces the concept of a ‘special guardian’ – an
arrangement more secure than a residence order, but not so secure
or absolute as adoption.