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I feel a bit like the warm-up act in relation to this group of amendments, so I hope that I will be able to warm people up and get on with it.
These amendments clarify clause 41, which sets out the period that a child has to live with a prospective adopter before an application may be made for an adoption order. They also make minor modifications to the provision in clause 43 that covers the process of giving notice to local authorities in non-agency adoptions.
In the case of the changes to clause 41, amendment No. 211 corrects an omission in the Bill as currently drafted, by providing that in the rare cases in which a natural parent is applying to adopt their own child, the residence period required will be the same as that for agency-approved adopters, as it is under the Adoption Act 1976.
Amendments Nos. 212 and 213 improve the wording of subsection (3), which relates to step-parent applications. They make it clear that, when a step-parent is applying to adopt a child jointly with the natural parent, the six-month residence period for step-parent applications is still to apply, as it does for single step-parent applications.
Amendments Nos. 215 to 218 concern the process of non-agency adoptions. When an adoption is not happening through an adoption agency, the adoptive applicant has to give notice to the local authority in which he has his home, so that the local authority can investigate and report to the court—an important safeguard for children in cases where an adoption agency has not been involved in selecting and matching the adopters for the child.
These amendments allow for cases in which an applicant fulfils the domicile requirements in clause 47, but does not in law currently have his home in a local authority area. It might be helpful to hon. Members if I explain that this problem was brought to our attention by the Ministry of Defence, because it relates to members of the armed services or, for example, to diplomats temporarily stationed abroad. Obviously, we would not want to block such individuals from adopting under British law simply on these grounds. The amendments would allow us in these cases to prescribe, in regulations, which should be the appropriate local authority in cases where the applicant did not currently have his home in the UK.
In addition, Government amendment No. 215 makes it clear that, although the report to the court and the investigation are the responsibility of the local authority, it could arrange for elements of them to be carried out by other suitable organisations. For example, in the case of step-parent adoption applications by service families stationed overseas, we would envisage that the Service Families Adoption Agency—a registered voluntary adoption agency—would conduct the investigation and visit the family, as required by clause 41(7), and pass the results to the relevant local authority. If the authority were satisfied, it would then submit the report to the court.
In conclusion, these amendments clarify the provisions in relation to clause 41, and ensure that an unsatisfactory situation relating particularly to our forces stationed overseas has been satisfactorily sorted out.