Adoption system must put children first, says Milburn

The attitude and culture of the adoption system must be changed
to put children’s interests first, health secretary Alan Milburn
told MPs during the second reading of the Adoption and Children

“But I do not pretend that merely by changing the law we can
change the culture, because the problem is more deep-seated,” said

Individual councils’ performance in adoption was “too varied”,
he added, and the overall system, including the courts, was “too
slow and bureaucratic”, “opaque and often unfair”.

The bill aims to overhaul the legal framework, make adoption
easier, reduce delays, further regulate overseas adoptions,
introduce adoption support services, and create special
guardianship orders (SGOs) as a half-way house between full
adoption and foster care.

Expected to become law next year, it will be the means by which
the government implements its target of increasing the number of
adoptions by 40 per cent by 2005.

A key issue for adoption campaigners, such as British Agencies
for Adoption and Fostering, and the National Organisation for
Counselling Adoptees and Parents (NORCAP), has been the right of
unmarried couples to adopt jointly.

The bill maintains the current position of only allowing married
couples and single people to adopt. When questioned by MPs, Milburn
broadly backed the bill’s proposals, but said the issue should be

But BAAF chief executive Felicity Collier described the law as
“outdated”, drawing on recent MORI research that 68 per cent of
people agree unmarried couples in stable long-term relationships
should be eligible to adopt jointly.

NORCAP said in its briefing to MPs: “Please try to understand
that this is not about any adults’ right to become an adoptive
parent. It is all about the right of the child to have an enduring
legal parent/child relationship with both individuals he or she
sees as parents.”

* While applying to only England and Wales, the Scottish
parliament voted unanimously last week to apply the bill to
Scotland. It will now debate the legislation and adapt it to meet
the Scottish legal system where necessary.

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