4 Other provisions on which NORCAP wishes to comment

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

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4.1 NORCAP welcomes the requirement in section 1 (4)d and 1 (5) which recognises the importance of the child's background. For generations adopted people report that tension within the adoptive situation is greatest when they feel they do not fit in. We hear from people who describe themselves as `square pegs in round holes' or the `odd one out'. The feeling of isolation may be perceived as a result of cultural, racial, physical, intellectual or emotional differences. It is very important that all factors are taken into account.

4.2 NORCAP is concerned that when a child is placed for adoption with a couple who are not married to one another only one of them will be able to adopt the child. NORCAP is very aware that it is vital for an adopted child to be 100 per cent. confident that there is equal and complete commitment in the new family to him/her being in that family. If only one adult can adopt, the adopted child may be insecure as a result.

4.3 This provision may reflect concern that providing for adoption orders to be made to couples who are to parent a child together but are not married to each other would be interpreted as promoting adoption by gay couples. This is not the key issue and needs re-examination from a child centred perspective. This is not an issue about any adult having the right to adopt. It is all about the adopted child's right to have the same, equal, and lifelong relationship to both adults who act as parents to him/her rather than the quality relationship conferred by adoption to one of the adults and a lesser, temporary one to the other 'parent'. This is like asking a child to tell you who he/she loves most—Mum or Dad? It should not happen.

4.4 There is no legislation requiring that children may be placed only with married couples or single people who live alone. For many years adoption agencies have taken up applications from unmarried people living both as heterosexual and gay couples. Both partners are subject to the same preparation and assessment, much of which focuses on their interaction and their skill in working together. An appraisal is made of their ability to support one another in the face of difficulties—a most essential characteristic for people contemplating the challenge of adoptive parenting. In making a recommendation for approval as prospective adopters panels normally note which applicant will be the one to apply to adopt and which will seek an alternative order giving parental responsibility in recognition of his/her role in relation to the adopted child. When a link is made this is because after careful assessment the couple together is shown to be the best placement for a particular child. It does not reflect their right to be parents. It reflects the view that the child's needs can best be met by them as a couple.

4.5 When any couple is selected as the people who together can meet a child's needs then the child needs to be adopted by both of them. In this way the child's rights are met; the right of the child to be adopted by both partners not just one. Section 43 needs amendment to achieve this.

This proposal, made by many organisations, needs to be acted upon

4.6 Although during the 1960's the UK was a signatory to a convention which requires only married couples or single people adopt this should not determine legislation in the twenty first century. It is not a tenable argument today for depriving children of the right to a lifelong permanent relationship to both would-be adoptive parents even if they are not married to each other. In the 1960's most adoptions were of babies relinquished by unmarried mothers solely because they were unmarried mothers. Unmarried parenthood fell outside society's norms. All that has changed. Most adoptions today are of children who have been looked after in public care who need the most skilled and resourceful adoptive parents regardless of the sexual orientation or marital status of those parents. The child's security will be enhanced by the knowledge that both partners are his/her adopters for life. If implementing such beneficial change in domestic law requires the UK to re-negotiate the international convention then it should be done in the interest of applying an ethical policy which recognises that the child's needs throughout his/her life must be the paramount consideration in any matters relating to adoption.

4.7 NORCAP wishes to see changes to the provisions contained in section 44 concerning consent. We are saddened that the requirements for giving consent to adoption remain so unacceptable to most birth parents who whilst recognising the need for their child to be adopted only accept that plan with regret and sorrow. Acceptance of the plan together with recognition of the effect, should be the basis of consent and reflected in the wording of forms parents need to sign for an adoption to be heard by the court uncontested. Clause 44 does not meet this requirement even though the White Paper indicated the means of giving consent would be made acceptable to birth parents, thereby reducing delay for their children. NORCAP proposes that a birth parent may give consent to adoption by declaring `I acknowledge that adoption will be in the best interests of my child. I accept the adoption plan and will not oppose the making of an adoption order. I understand the implications of an adoption order being made.'

This suggestion has not been included in the Bill

4.8 NORCAP does not consider it right to dispense with a birth parents consent to adoption simply because `the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with'. We do not consider such a fundamental interference in family life can possibly be compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. NORCAP proposes that the test for dispensation of consent should be that proposed in the Report to Ministers—Interdepartmental Review of Adoption 1993. The consent of the parent may be dispensed with if the advantage to the child of being adopted is so significantly better than any other option as to justify dispensing with the parent's consent.

The test for dispensation of consent remains too low for an order as far reaching and enduring as adoption.

4.9 NORCAP welcomes the introduction of a Special Guardianship order and hopes that if will be considered as a positive means of achieving for a child the benefits traditionally associated with adoption whilst avoiding the losses associated with adoption. We have learned that in New Zealand Guardianship is the means of providing permanency for children aged over 2 years.

4.10 NORCAP has taken note of two provisions in section 94(special guardianship) that we would like to see applied also to situations involving adoption. They are:—

4.11 14B Before making a special guardianship order or an adoption order the court must consider whether, if the order were made, a contact order should also be made with respect to the child.

And 14C(4) If the child with respect to whom a special guardianship order dies, his/her special guardian must take reasonable steps to give notice of that fact to each parent of the child with parental responsibility. This would translate as:—

If a child who was adopted dies his adoptive parent(s) must take reasonable steps to give notice of that fact to the individuals who had parental responsibility for the child before the adoption order was made.

4.12 It would probably be appropriate to impose a duty upon the adoption agency to assist the adoptive parents in fulfilling this responsibility.

The two proposals above have not been acted upon.

4.13 NORCAP trusts that the Select Committee will recognise that the common thread through all our proposals and concerns is a recognition that adoption binds individuals and families together for life. We all remain emotionally connected for life. We need a legal framework that recognises and regulates that reality with compassion and sensitivity.