Adoption groups have warned that social workers should not be
allowed to refuse to work on cases involving same-sex couples
because of their religious beliefs.
Debate over the “conscience clause” follows stories in the national
press this week about two social workers who were moved from a
council’s children’s services because of their concerns over
allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
Although gay men and lesbians are already able to adopt as
individuals, the new Adoption and Children Act 2002, due to be
introduced this year, will allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly
for the first time.
Experienced children’s social workers Norah Ellis and Dawn Jackson
were warned by Sefton Council, Merseyside, in October 2002 that
they could be disciplined or even sacked if they refused to work
with same-sex couples. It followed comments they made to colleagues
over how, as Christians, they felt same-sex couples could not
provide the right environment for adoption.
After they consulted solicitors, it was amicably agreed they should
be transferred to adult services as they felt unable to continue in
their existing jobs. This has led to calls from some MPs for there
to be a conscience clause in the new legislation to protect social
workers with religious beliefs.
But Barbara Hutchinson, deputy chief executive of Baaf Adoption and
Fostering, said such a clause would be “difficult to manage”.
“It is not about religious practice, but professional practice and
needs of children,” she said. “People need to look at the
requirement of the job – if they feel they can’t do this for
religious reasons there are voluntary agencies that make
Adoption UK chief executive Jonathan Pearce said any such clause
would be “ridiculous and justify discrimination”.
He added: “I can’t see how sexuality should say whether you should
be an adopter or good parent.
“This is not a case of political correctness. We just want to keep
the pool of prospective adopters as wide as possible.”
Sefton Council said all prospective adopters were treated the same,
regardless of their religion, sex or race.