b) Dispensation with parental consent

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 20 November 2001.

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Although this change to placement orders removes one of our major concerns about the inadequacy of the grounds for dispensing with parental consent, it does not completely remove the problem. If the status of parents is to mean anything, it must surely mean that it makes a difference whether or not they agree to adoption. If they do agree, the court and the agency must take into account all the matters set out in clause 1, including the parents' views, and the court must not, by virtue of clause 1(6) make any order under the Adoption and Children Act unless it considers that making the order would be better for the child than not doing so. In other words, the court must not make an adoption order unless the child's welfare requires it. If on the other hand the parents do not consent, the court must again take into account all the matters listed in clause 1, including the parents' opposition, but clause 50 provides that it may dispense with parental consent ''if the child's welfare requires it.'' It is hard to see therefore that the Bill makes any real distinction between the situation where the parents consent and that where they disagree. If the requirement for parental consent is to have any meaning, then the test for dispensing with it must have some content which acknowledges a different between cases where consent is forthcoming and those where it is not. Without this it is questionable whether the ''proportionality'' required under the European Convention is satisfied—i.e. that the adoption (a major infringement of the parents right to family life under article 8 of the Convention) is ''necessary in a democratic society''. We are still inclined to favour the form of words suggested by the Adoption Law Review Team, that adoption would be so significantly better for the child than any other option as to justify overriding the parents' wishes. Another possibility might be to provide that parental consent could be dispensed with only if the court was satisfied that it would be impossible for the child's developmental needs to be met without an adoption order. (''Development'' is defined in the Children Act to mean ''physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development'', and the recently established framework for the assessment of children focuses on their developmental needs.)