Adoption services in Northern Ireland face their biggest reform for 20 years, said health minister Paul Goggins today.
The changes announced by the health minister for Ulster include:
* Health and social services trusts would have a duty for the first time to provide adoption support, including cash help.
* Special guardianship orders would allow children to be placed with a permanent family while retaining links with their birth parents.
* Civil partners and unmarried couples would be entitled to jointly adopt children.
The reforms follow a radical shake-up of child protection announced last week, which included the establishment of a Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland to replace existing area child protection committees and panels.
Goggins said: “We have patchy, inconsistent, adoption services. I want to see agreed standards in place, which will deliver a first class adoption service.”
The reforms, which will be enacted in primary legislation, are based on consultative proposals published last July.