Children’s agencies urge MPs to allow unmarried couples to adopt

The number of children who benefit from
adoption could be severely restricted unless the Adoption and
Children Bill is amended, a coalition of leading adoption and
children’s agencies warned MPs last week.

A letter sent by 19 agencies – led by BAAF
Adoption & Fostering and including the National Children’s
Bureau, Barnardo’s, NCH, Adoption UK and the Association of
Directors of Social Services – is timed to coincide with the bill’s
report stage in the House of Commons this week.

The coalition has urged MPs to back a
cross-party amendment to the bill allowing unmarried couples to
adopt jointly. Under current legislation, which the bill reaffirms,
adoption is only permitted by single people and by married couples
making a joint adoption. Children can be adopted by unmarried
couples, but only one partner is granted the legal status of
adoptive parent.

The coalition believes the life chances of
more children would be improved by widening the pool of potential
adoptive parents and by allowing those children placed with
unmarried couples to enjoy the security of a permanent legal
relationship with both parents.

The coalition’s letter has been prompted by
fears that the government is considering a whipped vote to support
the bill as it stands, following recent reports of a Cabinet split
over the government’s stance on marriage issues, and concerns over
the wider implications for unmarried couples. The government is
also understood to have added the issue of adoption to its ongoing
review of “registered relationships”.

However, during the bill’s special standing
committee stage in December and January almost all the witnesses
who gave public evidence backed the right of unmarried couples to
adopt jointly.

The number of cohabiting couples has tripled
since 1986, according to last year’s British Social Attitudes
Survey, and the proportion of cohabiting couples is expected to
reach 30 per cent of all couples by 2021.

Yet the bill remained un-amended at the end of
the committee stage and an early day motion on the issue has
attracted the support of 140 MPs.

The cross-party amendment, tabled by Health
Select Committee chairperson David Hinchliffe, which the coalition
wants MPs to support, would force the courts to be satisfied that
the relationship between two unmarried people seeking to adopt was
longer than two years at the time of application and was intended
to be permanent.

“We want to know why the government isn’t
responding to the evidence given by the committee, listening to its
own MPs, and putting children first,” said BaaF chief executive
Felicity Collier.

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