c) Intercountry adoption

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at on 21 November 2001.

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This section of the Bill proved very difficult for us to understand (perhaps Clause 83 most of all). We are awaiting the interpretation of experienced legal counsel and hope to be able to speak with greater lucidity at the oral hearing on this matter.

We find it difficult too to interpret the general attitude to intercountry adoption: the Bill will make it possible to ratify the Hague Convention, which is hugely welcome and which the Government has said it is keen to do. But it then introduces extremely tight restrictions on intercountry adoption without providing any assistance to those who wish to pursue it.

On the one hand the Bill does, helpfully, make it clear that local authorities have to provide home-studies and, most understandably, privately-commissioned ones are outlawed. However, it continues to allow the payment of fees for this service. Presently, home-studies/assessments can cost up to £6,000 in some areas, in others it is £1,000, sometimes even less. Even if the Government is unwilling to waive the fee system, surely it would be fair to cap the cost. At present these high fees could, to some eyes, seem liable to being interpreted as profiting.

There is no provision for help or advice beyond the home study. Prospective adopters will still be on their own battling with the bureaucracies of two countries— their own and the country of origin of the child. How are people to find reliable contacts and agencies abroad when there is so little official help on offer? Does not the very lack of help mean that people with the best possible intentions are vulnerable to those who might want to exploit them? Does it not lead them into danger?

There are many people interested in adopting from abroad: the Overseas Adoption Helpline receives 3,000 inquiries a year. They have personal connections, family, friends, or they have worked and lived abroad. Others are involved in international businesses here, or are linked with ethnic communities in other ways. Most have firm convictions of the need to offer family life to children in desperate circumstances.

It is believed that the Department of Health processes fewer than 300 applications a year. Meanwhile France, with a similar population to the UK, gives 3,600 children a year the chance of family life built on adoption; Norway with 4.5 million people brings in some 400 children from abroad through its carefully controlled programme.

Success rates for intercountry adoption in the UK are excellent. There are very few adoption breakdowns.