`Deep-seated` problems in council adoption services, says Milburn

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

“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 as a half-way house between full adoption and
foster care.

Expected to become law next year, the government hopes the new
measures will help it reach 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 during
the debate, Milburn broadly backed the bill’s proposals, but said
the issue should be debated.

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“outdated”, drawing on recent Mori research that 68 per cent of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.

Elsewhere, Norcap’s parliamentary briefing stated: “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 two adults living together may apply jointly for special
guardianship, this runs the risk that children may be subjected to
special guardianship rather than adoption, when the “lifelong
security” of the latter may be preferable, Collier added.

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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